Real Time Kinematic

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North SmaRTK GNSS RTK Receiver being used to survey the forest population in Switzerland.

Real Time Kinematic (RTK) satellite navigation is a technique used to enhance the precision of position data derived from satellite-based positioning systems (global navigation satellite systems, GNSS) such as GPS, GLONASS, Galileo, and BeiDou. It uses measurements of the phase of the signal's carrier wave, rather than the information content of the signal, and relies on a single reference station or interpolated virtual station to provide real-time corrections, providing up to centimetre-level accuracy. With reference to GPS in particular, the system is commonly referred to as Carrier-Phase Enhancement, or CPGPS.[citation needed] It has application in land survey and in hydrographic survey.



Normally, satellite navigation receivers must align signals sent from the satellite to an internally generated version of a pseudorandom binary sequence, also contained in the signal. Since the satellite signal takes time to reach the receiver, the two sequences do not initially coincide; the satellite's copy is delayed in relation to the local copy. By increasingly delaying the local copy, the two copies can eventually be aligned. The correct delay represents the time needed for the signal to reach the receiver, and from this the distance from the satellite can be calculated.

The accuracy of the resulting range measurement is essentially a function of the ability of the receiver's electronics to accurately process signals from the satellite, and additional error sources such as non mitigated ionospheric and tropospheric delays, multipath, satellite clock and ephemeris errors, etc.

Carrier phase tracking[edit]

RTK follows the same general concept, but uses the satellite signal's carrier wave as its signal, ignoring the information contained within. The improvement possible using this signal is potentially very high if one continues to assume a 1% accuracy in locking. For instance, in the case of GPS, the coarse-acquisition (C/A) code (broadcast in the L1 signal) changes phase at 1.023 MHz, but the L1 carrier itself is 1575.42 MHz, which changes phase over a thousand times more often. The carrier frequency corresponds to a wavelength of 19 cm for the L1 signal. A ±1% error in L1 carrier phase measurement thus corresponds to a ±1.9 mm error in baseline estimation.[1]

The difficulty in making an RTK system is properly aligning the signals. The navigation signals are deliberately encoded in order to allow them to be aligned easily, whereas every cycle of the carrier is similar to every other. This makes it extremely difficult to know if you have properly aligned the signals or if they are "off by one" and are thus introducing an error of 19 cm, or a larger multiple of 19 cm. This integer ambiguity problem can be addressed to some degree with sophisticated statistical methods that compare the measurements from the C/A signals and by comparing the resulting ranges between multiple satellites. However, none of these methods can reduce this error to zero.

Practical considerations[edit]

In practice, RTK systems use a single base station receiver and a number of mobile units. The base station re-broadcasts the phase of the carrier that it observes, and the mobile units compare their own phase measurements with the one received from the base station. There are several ways to transmit a correction signal from base station to mobile station. The most popular way to achieve real-time, low-cost signal transmission is to use a radio modem, typically in the UHF band. In most countries, certain frequencies are allocated specifically for RTK purposes. Most land survey equipment has a built-in UHF band radio modem as a standard option.

This allows the units to calculate their relative position to within millimeters, although their absolute position is accurate only to the same accuracy as the computed position of the base station. The typical nominal accuracy for these systems is 1 centimetre ± 2 parts-per-million (ppm) horizontally and 2 centimetres ± 2 ppm vertically.[2]

Although these parameters limit the usefulness of the RTK technique for general navigation, the technique is perfectly suited to roles like surveying. In this case, the base station is located at a known surveyed location, often a benchmark, and the mobile units can then produce a highly accurate map by taking fixes relative to that point. RTK has also found uses in autodrive/autopilot systems, precision farming, machine control systems and similar roles.

The Virtual Reference Station (VRS) method extends the use of RTK to a whole area of a reference station network. Operational reliability and accuracy depend on the density and capabilities of the reference station network.

A Continuously Operating Reference Station (CORS) network is a network of RTK base stations that broadcast corrections, usually over an Internet connection. Accuracy is increased in a CORS network, because more than one station helps ensure correct positioning and guards against a false initialization of a single base station.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]

  • RTK Detailed Concepts GNSS, RTK and Satellite Positioning concepts in depth.
  • CORS Map Global Network of Continuously Operating Reference Stations.
  • GBAS Map Global Map Coverage of Ground Based Augmentation Reference Beacons (GBAS).


  1. ^ Geo-Positioning, GPS, DGPS, and Positioning Accuracy at the Wayback Machine (archived January 15, 2009)
  2. ^ RealTimeKinematicSystem at the Wayback Machine (archived April 7, 2012)