What is GLONASS and How Does it Work?

GLONASS is the short form of the Global Navigation Satellite System. It provides authentic navigation, timing, and positioning services to users. These services are free for worldwide users. The system works on the basis of triangulation principles and satellite technology. It’s an alternative to the US’ Global Positioning System, China’s BeiDou Navigation System, and the EU’s Galileo Positioning System.

The Soviet Union developed GLONASS during the 1970s to keep an eye on regional military communications.  At the end of the Cold War, the Soviet Union realized the importance of the commercial application of GLONASS. It could be used for weather broadcasts, navigation, reconnaissance data, and communication, etc. So, Russia launched the first GLONASS satellite in 1982 and it became fully operational in 1993. Gradually, Russia launched a system of 18 active satellites to fulfill global communication requirements. Currently, GLONASS is a pack of 24 satellites in the constellation.


According to an estimation, up to 2011, the Soviet government has spent around 5 billion dollars at GLONASS. For further research in this field, it has invested another $10 billion from 2012 to 2020. So, GLONASS is considered the most expensive project by the Russian Federal Space Agency.

How Does it Work?

It consists of 24 satellites and all of them lie in three orbital planes. So, you can say that there are eight satellites/plane.

The GLONASS satellite movement cycle repeats once every eight days. The orbit period of every satellite consists of a maximum of 8 to 17 of a sidereal 1 day. So, in every eight sidereal days, these 24 satellites complete 17 orbital revolutions.

As we have mentioned earlier, there are eight satellites in one orbital plan, daily the position of one satellite can be spotted at the same sidereal time. All of the 24 satellites have been placed into round orbits to target 64.8 degrees and a radius of 19,140 km, about 1,060 km lower than the Global Positioning System of the USA.

The GLONASS satellite signal detects the satellite and observes the following activities:

  • The positioning of every satellite
  • Velocity, and acceleration to compute the accurate location of the satellite
  • Health information of each satellite
  • An offset of GLONASS time from Universal Time Russia
  • Activities of other satellites

Civil/Commercial Use of GLONASS

If we compare GLONASS with the GPS system, we find the rare civil/commercial uses of GLONASS.

The GLONASS receivers are more expensive and they need a higher IF bandwidth than that of the GPS system. However, by using the CDMA techniques in the GLONASS, the receiver level cost can be reduced.

In 2011, it was used for the security of civilians for the very first time. The Govt. directed that GLONASS-based navigators should be used in passenger cars, buses, and other transport vehicles to detect dangerous and explosive materials. Furthermore, the government laid stress on all car manufacturers in Russia to make vehicles with built-in GLONASS navigators.


GPS is a network of 31 satellites developed by the USA and it’s used for commercial devices such as navigators, mobile phones, weather forecast departments, etc. On the other hand, GLONASS consists of 24 satellites developed by Russia and it’s not widely used for commercial devices.

See the below given table to compare the functions and range of both satellites.

Designed byRussiaUSA
Number of SatellitesAt-least 2431
Orbital Height21150 Km19130 km
AccuracyPosition: 5–10 mPosition: 3.5-7.8 m
Orbital plane inclination64.8 degree55 degree
Orbital period11 hours and 16 minutes11 hours and 58 minutes
Frequency (L1)Around 1.602 GHz (SP)1.57542 GHz (L1 signal)
Frequency (L2)Around 1.246 GHz (SP)1.2276 GHz (L2 signal)

Which is Better? GLONASS VS GPS

The range and accuracy of GLONASS are unparalleled. However, GLONASS doesn’t have a wide coverage as the GPS has. In the same way, GLONASS has a perfect accuracy. The GPS signals become weak in mighty buildings or subways. But GLONASS can track you even in skyscrapers and subways with 100% accuracy. However, GLONASS is purely used for Russian regions. It’s not available for commercial uses like mobiles and navigators. GPS is available for commercial devices.

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