The nation’s third next-generation GPS III satellite – and the first delivered by Lockheed Martin to the new U.S. Space Force — has arrived in Florida for an expected April launch.
On Feb. 5, 2020, the third Lockheed Martin-built GPS III space vehicle (GPS III SV03) was shipped to Cape Canaveral from the company’s GPS III Processing Facility near Denver aboard a massive Air Force C-17 aircraft traveling from Buckley Air Force Base, Colo.
In keeping with its tradition of nicknaming satellites after famous explorers, the GPS III team nicknamed GPS III SV03 “Columbus” after the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus.
GPS III SV03 is the latest of up to 32 next-generation GPS III/GPS III Follow-On (GPS IIIF) satellites Lockheed Martin has designed and is building to help the Space Force modernize today’s GPS constellation with new technology and capabilities.
“Every day, more than four billion civil, commercial and military users rely on the Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) services provided by 31 GPS satellites launched since 1997,” said Tonya Ladwig, Lockheed Martin’s Program Manager for GPS III. “We are excited to help the Space Force refresh the constellation to ensure U.S. and allied forces always have the best technology and that the U.S. Global Positioning System remains the gold standard for PNT.”
GPS III is the most powerful and resilient GPS satellite ever put on orbit. Developed with an entirely new design for U.S. and allied forces, GPS III has three times greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities over any previous GPS satellites in the constellation. GPS III is also the first GPS satellite to broadcast the new L1C civil signal, which is shared by other international global navigation satellite systems, like Galileo, to improve future connectivity worldwide for commercial and civilian users.
GPS III was intentionally designed to evolve with new technology and changing mission needs. The satellite’s evolutionary modular design will allow new “GPS IIIF” capabilities to start being added at the 11th satellite. These will include a fully digital navigation payload, a Regional Military Protection capability, an accuracy-enhancing Laser Retroreflector Array, and a Search & Rescue payload.
Meanwhile, GPS III satellites are beginning to join the constellation. On Jan. 13, 2020, the first Lockheed Martin-built GPS III satellite, GPS III SV01 (“Vespucci”), was set “healthy and active” by the 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2 SOPS) at Schriever Air Force Base, in Colorado. 2 SOPS is now using the GPS III Contingency Operations (COps)-upgraded OCS ground control system to operate both the new GPS III and previously launched GPS satellites.
GPS III SV02 (“Magellan”), launched on Aug. 22, 2019, has completed its on-orbit testing and is currently awaiting its turn for integration into the constellation. GPS III SV03 has now been shipped to the Cape and on Jan. 21, 2020, the Space Force called up GPS III SV04 for a launch later this summer. GPS III SV05-09 are now in various stages of assembly and test at Lockheed Martin’s commercial-like large satellite production line for GPS III satellites near Denver.
The company is expected to soon complete its critical design review with the Space Force to begin production on the first two GPS IIIF satellites under contract.
“It’s an exciting time across the GPS mission as we bring together the best of our space, ground, and operations systems to help the United States Space Force modernize this critical national capability,” commented Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Navigation Systems.
Lockheed Martin is proud to be a part of the U.S. Space Force’s GPS III team. The GPS III team is led by the Production Corps, Medium Earth Orbit Division, at the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, at Los Angeles Air Force Base. 2 SOPS, at Schriever Air Force Base, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.