A satellite navigation or SAT NAV system is a system of satellites that provide autonomous geo-spatial positioning with global coverage. It allows small electronic receivers to determine their location (longitude, latitude, and altitude) to within a few metres using time signals transmitted along a line-of-sight by radio from satellites. Receivers calculate the precise time as well as position, which can be used as a reference for scientific experiments. A satellite navigation system with global coverage may be termed a global navigation satellite system or GNSS.
As of October 2011, only the United States NAVSTAR Global Positioning System (GPS) and the Russian GLONASS are fully globally operational GNSSs. China is in the process of expanding its regional Beidou navigation system into the global Compass navigation system by 2020. The European Union's Galileo positioning system is a GNSS in initial deployment phase, scheduled to be fully operational by 2020 at the earliest. Several countries including France, Japan and India are in the process of developing regional navigation systems.
Global coverage for each system is generally achieved by a satellite constellation of 20–30 medium Earth orbit (MEO) satellites spread between several orbital planes. The actual systems vary, but use orbit inclinations of >50° and orbital periods of roughly twelve hours (at an altitude of about 20,000 kilometres (12,000 mi)).