The U.S. Air Force’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2 SOPS) set the first GPS III satellite, the Satellite Vehicle Number 74 (SVN-74), as healthy and active to users, on Jan. 13.
The milestone means that the satellite, also called USA-289 and GPS III SV01, will be available to military and civilian GPS users around the world as part of the constellation currently maintained by the squadron.
This makes the SVN-74 satellite, nicknamed “Vespucci”, the first iteration in the GPS III family to join the active constellation following its launch abroad SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 23, 2018.
2nd SOPS is already preparing for the second GPS Block III vehicle (GPS III SV02 “Magellan”/USA-293/SVN-75) in orbit, awaiting its day to become healthy and active. This satellite was launched aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Medium rocket on Aug. 22, 2019. A third vehicle for GPS III is scheduled for launch later this year.
The GPS III vehicle family provides new capabilities vital to ensuring the fidelity of the constellation and signal in the contested, degraded and operationally limited environments.
According to the manufacturer 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 extending 25 percent longer than the newest GPS satellites on-orbit today. GPS III’s new civil signal will also make it the first GPS satellite to broadcast a compatible signal with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Galileo, improving connectivity for civilian users.
Lockheed Martin is contracted to build a total of ten GPS III satellites.
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 (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. The first GPS IIIF satellite is expected to be available for launch in 2026.