Aside from replacing aging Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites, the US Air Force’s GPS III program promises to make GPS more nimble—improving its ability to meet the evolving needs of military, commercial, and civilian users. In addition to higher accuracy, for example, GPS III satellites will deliver enhanced anti-jamming power. They also will add a new civil signal, which is designed to be interoperable with international global navigation satellite systems. Such capabilities look to be on track for launch availability next year. The Lockheed Martin team developing the GPS III satellites recently turned on power to the system module of the program’s first spacecraft, designated GPS III Space Vehicle One (SV-1).
Successfully powering on GPS III SV-1 demonstrates mechanical integration while validating the satellite’s interfaces (see photo). It also paves the way for electrical and integrated hardware-software testing. Assembly, Integration, and Test (AI&T) on the satellite will be completed in Lockheed Martin’s new GPS Processing Facility (GPF), which has been designed for efficient and affordable satellite production. Each GPS III satellite will move through sequential workstations for various AI&T operations, culminating with shipment to the launch site.
Lockheed Martin is currently under contract for production of the first four GPS III satellites. The firm also has received advanced procurement funding of long-lead components for the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth satellites through two fixed-price contracts totaling $120 million. The Air Force plans to purchase as many as 32 GPS III satellites.
For GPS III, the Air Force initiated a “back-to-basics” acquisition approach. That strategy emphasizes early investments in rigorous systems engineering, industry-leading parts standards, and the development of a full-size GPS III satellite prototype. Such investments are designed to prevent the types of engineering problems that have been discovered on other programs late in the manufacturing process or even in orbit.
The GPS III team is led by the Global Positioning Systems Directorate at the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. Lockheed Martin is the GPS III prime contractor with teammates ITT Exelis, General Dynamics, Infinity Systems Engineering, Honeywell, ATK, and other subcontractors. Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2SOPS), based at Schriever Air Force Base, CO, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.