Next-gen US Air Force GPS satellite prepares for launch

Next-gen US Air Force GPS satellite prepares for launch

Stephen Kuper

The US Air Force’s second new GPS III satellite, bringing higher-power, more accurate and harder-to-jam signals to the GPS constellation, has arrived in Florida for launch.

Lockheed Martin shipped the second GPS III space vehicle (GPS III SV02) to Cape Canaveral for an expected July launch. Designed and built at Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility near Denver, the satellite traveled from Buckley Air Force Base, Colorado, to the Cape on a massive Air Force C-17 aircraft. The Air Force nicknamed the GPS III SV02 “Magellan” after Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan.

GPS III is the most powerful and resilient GPS satellite ever put on orbit. Developed with an entirely new design, for US and allied forces, it will have three times greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities over the previous GPS II satellite design block, which makes up today’s GPS constellation.

Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for navigation systems, said: “After orbit raising and antenna deployments, we switched on GPS III SV01’s powerful signal-generating navigation payload, and on 8 January began broadcasting signals.

GPS III also will be the first GPS satellite to broadcast the new L1C civil signal. Shared by other international global navigation satellite systems, like Galileo, the L1C signal will improve future connectivity worldwide for commercial and civilian users.

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The Air Force began modernising the GPS constellation with new technology and capabilities with the 23 December 2018 launch of its first GPS III satellite. GPS III SV01 is now receiving and responding to commands from Lockheed Martin’s Launch and Checkout Center at the company’s Denver facility.

“Our on-orbit testing continues, but the navigation payload’s capabilities have exceeded expectations, and the satellite is operating completely healthy,” Caldwell said. 

GPS III SV02 is the second of 10 new GPS III satellites under contract and in full production at Lockheed Martin. GPS III SV03-08 are now in various stages of assembly and test. The Air Force declared the second GPS III “available for launch” in August and, in November, called GPS III SV02 up for its 2019 launch.

The US Air Force selected Lockheed Martin for the GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) program, an estimated $7.2 billion opportunity to build up to 22 additional GPS IIIF satellites with additional capabilities. GPS IIIF builds off Lockheed Martin’s existing modular GPS III, which was designed to evolve with new technology and changing mission needs. 

Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that employs approximately 105,000 people worldwide and is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

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