The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center’s Global Positioning System III program reached a major milestone with the successful core mate of GPS III Space Vehicle 08 at Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility in Waterton, Colo., April 15.
With core mate complete, the space vehicle was named in honor of a NASA trailblazer.
The two-day core mate consisted of using a 10-ton crane to lift and complete a 90-degree rotation of the satellite’s system module, and then slowly lowering the system module onto the satellite’s vertical propulsion core. The two mated major subsystems come together to form an assembled GPS III space vehicle.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, SMC and its mission partner Lockheed Martin ensured that SV08 core mate took place – in accordance with all Centers for Disease Control and local guidelines to minimize exposure or transmission of COVID-19. The GPS III Processing Facility’s cleanroom high bay was restricted to only key personnel directly supporting the operation.
“Core mate is the most critical of the GPS space vehicle single-line-flow operations,” said Lt. Col. Margaret Sullivan, program manager and materiel lead for the GPS III program. “Despite the restrictions presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, our team adapted and worked tirelessly to achieve this essential milestone.”
When the core mate operation is successfully completed, a GPS III satellite is said to be “born.” In keeping with the team’s tradition of naming GPS III satellites after famous explorers and pioneers, SV08 was named “Katherine Johnson” in honor of the trailblazing National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mathematician and “human computer” who designed and computed orbital trajectories for NASA’s Mercury, Apollo and space shuttle missions. One of four African-American women at the center of the nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly and the movie titled “Hidden Figures,” Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 for her groundbreaking contributions to the U.S. Space program.
Other GPS III satellites have been named in honor of explorers including GPS III SV01 “Vespucci” after Amerigo Vespucci; GPS III SV02 “Magellan” after Ferdinand Magellan; and GPS III SV03 “Columbus” after Christopher Columbus.
The next step for the newly christened “Katherine Johnson” is the post-mate Systems Performance Test (SPT) scheduled to begin in August. SPT electrically tests the performance of the satellite during the early phase of build and provides a baseline test data set to be compared to post-environmental test data.
GPS III SV08 is currently scheduled to launch in 2022.
GPS III is the most powerful GPS satellite ever developed. It is three times more accurate and provides up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability over previous GPS satellites on orbit. GPS III brings new capabilities to users as a fourth civilian signal (L1C), designed to enable interoperability between GPS and international satellite navigation systems, such as Europe’s Galileo system. GPS III satellites will also bring the full capability of the Military Code (M-Code) signal, increasing anti-jam resiliency in support of the warfighter. These continued improvements and advancements to the GPS system makes it the premier space-based provider of positioning, navigation, and timing services for more than four billion worldwide.
Launched in December 2018 and August 2019, GPS III SV01 and SV02 became part of today’s operational constellation of 31 satellites, on January 13 and April 1, 2020 respectively. GPS III SV03 is scheduled to launch on June 30.
The Space and Missile Systems Center, located at the Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the center of excellence for acquiring and developing military space systems. Its portfolio includes the Global Positioning System, military satellite communications, defense meteorological satellites, space launch and range systems, satellite control networks, space based infrared systems, and space situational awareness capabilities.