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Lockheed and SpaceX team up on GPS III satellite

Lockheed and SpaceX team up on GPS III satellite

Stephen Kuper

Lockheed Martin has partnered with SpaceX to launch the GPS III satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida to support the US Air Force’s satellite modernisation program.

GPS III SV01 is the first of an entirely new design of GPS satellite, which will help the Air Force modernise today's GPS constellation with new technology and advanced capabilities. GPS III has three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities.

The spacecraft life will extend to 15 years, 25 per cent longer than any of the GPS satellites on-orbit today. GPS III's new L1C civil signal also will make it the first GPS satellite broadcasting a compatible signal with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Galileo, improving connectivity for civilian users.

Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin vice president for navigation systems said, "The world is dependent on GPS. More than 4 billion military, commercial and civilian users connect with signals generated by GPS satellites every day."

Lockheed Martin developed GPS III and manufactured GPS III SV01 at its advanced US$128 million GPS III Processing Facility near Denver. In September 2017, the Air Force declared the satellite "available for launch" (AFL) and had the company place it into storage.

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Last summer, the Air Force "called up" the satellite for launch and Lockheed Martin delivered it to Florida on 20 August. The Air Force nicknamed the satellite 'Vespucci' after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

GPS III SV01 is the first of 10 GPS III satellites originally ordered by the Air Force. GPS III SV03-08 are now in various stages of assembly and test. In August, the Air Force declared the second GPS III 'AFL' and, in November, called GPS III SV02 up for 2019 launch.

"The launch of GPS III SV01 will be the first step in modernising the Air Force's GPS constellation with the most powerful and resilient GPS satellites ever designed and built," Caldwell explained. 

In September, the Air Force selected Lockheed Martin for the GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) program, an estimated US$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. On 26 September, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a US$1.4 billion contract for support to start up the program and to contract the 11th and 12th GPS III satellite.

Launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, a two-stage rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX for the reliable and safe transport of satellites, and the Dragon spacecraft into orbit.

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