The Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) achieved a major Global Positioning System milestone on March 27 with the Contingency Operations (COps) program and GPS III Space Vehicle 02 (GPS III SV02) receiving U.S. Space Force’s Operational Acceptance approval.
COps is an upgrade to the current GPS Operational Control System to operationally command and control GPS III satellites. These satellites are the newest generation built by Lockheed Martin providing precise positioning, navigation and timing information with three times better accuracy, and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability than previous generations of GPS satellites.
The first GPS III satellite, SV01, was launched on Dec. 23, 2018, and achieved Operational Acceptance on Jan. 2, 2020. USSF made SV01 available for use by military and civilian users for critical missions worldwide on Jan. 13.
Operating in a trial period since October 2019, COps supports developmental testing of the GPS III ground and space capabilities. The trial period culminated in a fully mission capable rating from the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center’s Operational Utility Evaluation conducted on the new GPS III satellite and COps upgrade. This event successfully completed on Feb. 20.
Subsequently, GPS Operational Control System and COps received the second GPS III satellite – SV02, nicknamed “Magellan” – which the Space and Missile Systems Center launched on Aug. 22, 2019.
“The COps and GPS III SV02 Operational Acceptance marks another major milestone for the GPS enterprise and presents a clear picture that the Department of Defense is moving to the future. Of all the programs that will be delivered this year, there are few that carry with it as significant an impact to the warfighter and civilian users as this program will. This is truly a remarkable leap forward for the GPS enterprise and the capability it provides, and I couldn’t be more proud of the team that came together to make it happen,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Toth, 2nd Space Operations Squadron commander.
The GPS III satellite family provides new capabilities vital to ensuring the fidelity of the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation and signal in the contested, degraded and operationally limited environments.
According to Lockheed Martin, GPS III satellites have three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities than their predecessors, and a design life 25 percent longer than the previous generation GPS satellites on-orbit today. GPS III’s new L1C civil signal will also make it the first GPS satellite to broadcast a compatible signal with other international global navigation satellite systems (GNSS), like Europe’s Galileo, improving connectivity for civilian users.
Lockheed Martin is contracted to build a total of ten GPS III satellites as the initial batch. In September 2018, the 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 GPS IIIF satellites with additional capabilities. The first GPS IIIF satellite is expected to be available for launch in 2026.
The GPS III team is led by the Production Corps, Medium Earth Orbit Division, at the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, at Los Angeles Air Force Base. 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2 SOPS) at Schriever Air Force Base, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.