As GPS celebrates its 20th year, Robins' 567th EMXS maintains units used by Air Force, Navy

  • Published
  • By Jenny Gordon
  • Robins Public Affairs
For the last 20 years, the world has experienced the unique capabilities of a satellite precision navigation and timing system that has enhanced the quality of our everyday lives.

Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the GPS, or global positioning system - July 17, 1995 when Air Force Space Command declared full operational capability of the system.

The technology has enriched our way of life in such detail that many people could consider themselves lost without its fast-tracking, real-time capabilities, used by civilians as well as the military as part of national and global security efforts.

During this time, a shop in the 567th Electronics Maintenance Squadron has been responsible for repairing and testing receivers used on various weapon systems supported by the Air Force and Navy.

Guiding the Force
Bathed under bright lights and a maze of wires and work stations, there's a shop in the 567th EMXS responsible for repairing and testing several types of receivers used to communicate with GPS satellites.

John Fullington, a 402nd Electronics Maintenance Group electronics technician, has been at Robins since 1989. He said he remembers the shop getting its first assets in 1990, starting with prototypes.

"We've been going pretty strong ever since," he said. 

He remembers the shop busily repairing receivers after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and the workload is still active today. 

In 2014, nearly 500 units came through the shop. 

Technicians use one of several test stations to test individual circuit cards located inside a receiver.  Among several receivers tested by one of the shop's seven technicians is the 12-channel 3A SAASM receiver, which has been modified over the years to use less circuit card space, making it lighter and more efficient. 

There's also JPADS, or the Joint Precision Airdrop System. It's used to direct equipment to the ground once it's deployed from an aircraft. 

According to AFSPC, today's airmen conduct resupply missions with battlefield precision airdrops to combat forces with GPS-guided parachute-delivered equipment pallets; and during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, significant contributions were made, including the delivery of 5,500 GPS-guided Joint Direct Attack Munitions with pinpoint precision.

Glenn Collins, an electronics mechanic at Robins for 33 years, has worked in the shop since its inception. He operates a 'hot mock-up' station where satellite signals are searched in real-time to make sure receivers are working properly. 

"We can now see which satellites are available," he said. "I've enjoyed many years getting things out back to the warfighter. I'm proud to have been a part of this."    

The station's configuration was fabricated in the shop years ago and is still used today. Within about 15 minutes, Collins can get a quick fix on which satellites are in view at the moment, giving him a good read on whether information that's been downloaded on a receiver works or not. 

Whether GPS guides stormtrackers to accurately forecast the next big storm or successfully leads troops out of harm's way, there's little doubt its benefits have impacted the world and will continue for many years.

What else does it do?
GPS is a multi-use, worldwide utility that provides the highest-accuracy, free data to users everywhere.  

It consists of a constellation of more than 30 satellites which fly thousands of feet above the earth's surface, circling the planet twice daily in one of six orbits to provide continuous, worldwide coverage.

The GPS Master Control Station, operated by the 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., is responsible for command and control of the GPS satellite constellation.

Every GPS satellite contains multiple atomic clocks which relay precise time data to GPS signals. GPS receivers decode those signals, synchronizing each receiver to the atomic clocks. This critical dimension of time is used in GPS, in addition to longitude, latitude and altitude.

Used in everything from surveying and mapping to agriculture, rail and recreation, the system has become part of the fabric of everyday usage across the globe.

For example, it's used in mobile phones, watches and fitness equipment, and accurately pinpoints car and boat navigation. Its signal drives automated teller machines, debit card transactions and point of sale purchases.

GPS-based applications are used in precision farming for farm planning, and offers increased efficiencies and safety for vehicles using our nation's highways. 

It's been used heavily as part of relief efforts with global disasters in creating maps for rescue and aid operations, and is employed by the New York Stock Exchange, using the GPS time stamp for every financial transaction down to the nanosecond.