A Friendly Guide to GLONASS – Russia’s Answer to America’s GPS

This post will give you major insights into Russia’s satellite technology, GLONASS and how it is similar to / different from America’s GPS. Keep reading.


What is GLONASS?


When America-based Global Positioning System (GPS) was being tested for its unique properties and gearing up for a strong hold on the world at large, Russia was readying its own version of satellite technology, namely GLONASS, an abbreviation for Globalnaya Navigazionnaya Sputnikovaya Sistema, or Global Navigation Satellite System. As years tumbled by, it became indispensable for military tracking, weather and velocity positioning, real-time traffic data and so on, anywhere in the world or near-earth space. A key competitor to the GPS, GLONASS has been an integral part of all that navigation and surveying around the world. And, is trusted enough to deploy it at a time when America’s GPS falls behind expectations and doesn’t be of any service.


Why GLONASS was even a need when GPS existed?

America and Russia went to wars even in the constellation when GLONASS was launched. It’s no secret that the nations are at loggerheads over everything imaginable since we don’t know when. The trust issues are grave and pretty much insoluble. Misadventures, coming from either side, just don’t stop.

Remember how many times the United States has been criticised for allegedly taking down its GPS and stopping transmissions to support its vested interests. And, how Russia has also been accused to tamper GLONASS with a flick of a button, only to deceive receivers and give false information.

Had Russia relied on GPS, it would have paid a heavy price for the blunder. Not just Russia, every country, including China and India, given the complete global scenario, must have its own navigation, so as to have navigational accuracy in times of emergency.

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Glonass Inception

GLONASS was first envisioned and laid by the Soviet Union back in 1976. Till 1995, a series of satellite launches in the space completed the constellation and everything continued in full swing. It was during the late 1990s when the project hit a financial crunch and nosedived. In 2001, Russia under Vladimir Putin’s presidency began restoring the system and a lion’s share of the budget was allocated to support it. One of the most expensive programs, GLONASS single-handedly snatched away almost one-third of the Russian Federal Agency’s annual budget designated for 2010. Up until 2011, the Government expenditure was calculated up to five billion dollars on the GLONASS project.

And today, GLONASS is a 24 satellite constellation system, ensuring full global coverage. Being a space-based satellite navigation system operating in the radio navigation satellite service, it is on a par with the GPS and considered the next-best in terms of global coverage and precision. The Russian Federation has pegged a total investment of 10 million dollars (320 bn rubles) for the year 2012-2020.



It was the year 1995 that GLONASS came to a head. It was President Vladimir Putin, who made it the top government priority and one of Russia’s most ambitious projects in the nation’s history.

These decades witnessed the launch of many GLANOSSs, each an improvement over the previous one. but maintained a unique stand of its own.

  • GLANOSS-M: Launched in 2003, GLANOSS-M is the primary substituent, adding the second civil code and is paramount for GIS Mapping receivers.
  • GLANOSS K: Initiated in 2011, GLANOSS-k has three subsidiaries, namely, k1, k2 and km for research that adds the third civil frequency.
  • GLANOSS-K2: The upcoming project design by ISS Reshtenev is currently under construction with an expected launch in 2018. This successor will be equipped with CDMA signals, improving accuracy and improving 170% more power. However, it will be 70% heavier than its predecessors as well.
  • A-GLONASS: Assisted-GLONASS is quite similar to GLONASS but is enhanced with new improved features, especially compliant with smartphones. It is fitted with features like turn by turn navigation, real-time traffic data and several more. Like GPS, it uses the cell towers near the user’s location to lock it in using the internet data on phone.


How Does it Work?


The GLONASS orbit is perfect for high altitude locations where GPS seems to lose its functionality. The satellites are located in the middle of the circular orbit at 19,100 kilometers altitude with a 64.8 degree inclination and a period of 11 hours and 15 minutes revolution. It global coverage usually relies on its 24 satellites, while 18 are necessary for covering the Russian land. The position fix is only possible if the receiver is in the range of at least four satellites.



glonass Signals

GLONASS satellites transmit two types of signals; they are standard precision signal L1OF/L2OF and obfuscated high precision signal L1SF/L2SF. These signals deploy similar DSS encoding and ‘binary phase shift key’ modulation, similar to GPS. All the satellites transmit a similar code as their standard precision code, however, each transmits on a varied frequency using a 15channel frequency division multiple access (FDMA) technique spanning across the 1602 MHz.

The navigational message of the signals is transmitted as a sequence of text strings. The message usually has an invariable size, each pseudo size comprises on six strings. To transmit a full almanac for all current 24 satellites, a superframe of eight pseudo frames is required. Interestingly, L2OC signal does not transmit any navigational message, only the pseudo codes are capable of that.


How is GLONASS Different from the GPS? (GLONASS vs GPS)

How is GLONASS Different from the GPS

GPS, initially deployed for the US Army possesses a network of 36 satellites and is globally used for commercial purposes in devices like mobiles, navigators and many more. However, GLONASS encompasses 24 satellites with less expansive reach than the former. However, GLONASS is at an orbital height of 21150 km while the GPS remains at 19130 Km. When leveraged singularly, GLONASS doesn’t have a rather strong coverage similar to GPS but when combined, the accuracy of the entire coverage increases multi-folds. The combination allows the user’s device to be pin-pointed by a group of 35 satellites all across the globe.


Applications of GLONASS

GLONASS was first commercially deployed in a car navigator as Glospace SGK-70 but was bulky and expensive. Interestingly, iPhone 4S was the first apple product to use both GPS and GLONASS for determining a location on maps.

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What can we Expect after GLONASS?

What can we Expect after GLONASS

GALILEO: European university is currently working on a system called GALILEO which will be used to provide highly accurate positions. Galileo system consists of 30 satellites (27 operational + 3 active spares), positioned in three circular Medium Earth Orbit planes at 23 222 km altitude above the Earth, and at an inclination of the orbital planes of 56 degrees to the equator.

BeiDou Navigation Satellite System: China is developing its own constellation of 35 satellites called BeiDou Navigation Satellite System and is under construction since January 2015. This upcoming player will offer more capabilities than current GPS and is currently operational in China and Asia pacific region with 11 satellites in use. It will be globally available by 2020.

IRNSS: IRNSS or Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System is autonomous satellite system being developed by ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) that will offer public service and restricted service (authorized users like the military). This system would consist constellation of seven satellites out of which four are already placed in the orbit and the entire constellation is expected to be operational by 2018.

That’s a wrap! Here ends our guide to knowing GLONASS better. We’ve tried keeping it as simple as possible to dispel all your doubts about GLONASS and its counterpart, GPS. Hope you’ve found this post interesting. For queries, suggestion and feedback, keep us posted in the comments section below.