The U.S. Space Force (USSF)’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) and its mission partners successfully delivered the third GPS III satellite, SV03 “Columbus”, to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL on Feb. 5.
The U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and its mission partners successfully delivered the third GPS III satellite, SV03 “Columbus” from Buckley Air Force Base, CO to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, Feb. 5, 2020. #SMC #SpaceStartsHere #USSF #GPSIIISV03 pic.twitter.com/pNaapAKSzS
— SMC (@AF_SMC) February 8, 2020
GPS III Space Vehicle (SV) 03 was safely transported from the Lockheed Martin facility in Waterton, Colorado to Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida. The satellite named “Columbus” in honor of Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who completed four transatlantic voyages and explored the Americas, was carried aboard a C-17 Globemaster III originating from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.
The delivery of GPS III SV03 starts the clock for final testing and checkout prior to launch. The satellite will be processed at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Florida to ensure the full functionality of the satellite, prepare the satellite for propellant loading, and encapsulate the satellite in its protective fairing. At the completion of these activities, the satellite will be horizontally integrated with the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.
The satellite is slated to launch in April 2020. Once on-orbit, it will join the operational constellation of 31 GPS satellites, delivering enhanced resiliency, better accuracy, and advanced anti-jam capabilities.
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.
“The arrival of the third GPS III satellite is another landmark for the program and is a testament to the professionalism, hard work and dedication of GPS team members from all parts of the country,” said Col. Edward Byrne, chief of Production Corps’ Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division. “The delivery of SV03 marks the start of our second GPS III launch campaign on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and brings us another step closer in advancing the GPS constellation with more capable satellites.”
“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.”
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.
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.
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 Air Force also awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.4 billion contract for support to start up the program and to contract the 11th and 12th GPS III (the first two GPS IIIF) satellites.
GPS IIIF builds off Lockheed Martin’s existing modular GPS III, which was designed to evolve with new technology and changing mission needs. These will include a fully digital navigation payload, a Regional Military Protection capability, an accuracy-enhancing Laser Retroreflector Array, and a Search & Rescue payload.
Lockheed Martin 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. 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. 2 SOPS, at Schriever Air Force Base, manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civil and military users.