Military Embedded Systems

Navigation payload elements powered on in GPS III test bed


May 30, 2012

John McHale

Editorial Director

Military Embedded Systems

Navigation payload elements powered on in GPS III test bed

DENVER. Navigation payload elements of the GPS III Non-Flight Satellite were powered on by the Lockheed Martin team that is producing the satellite system. These navigation elements include advanced atomic clocks that improve GPS accuracy, and the Mission Data Unit, which is the heart of the GPS III navigation payload. The test was completed before the integration of the full Navigation Payload Element.

The GPS III program will cost-effectively replace aging GPS satellites and at the same time improve capabilities for military, civilian, and commercial and civilian users. GPS III satellites will provide better accuracy and improved anti-jamming capability while enhancing the spacecraft’s design life and providing a new civil signal designed that will be interoperable with international global navigation satellite systems. Lockheed Martin officials expect to deliver the first satellite for launch in 2014.

Incorporating lessons learned from previous GPS programs, the Air Force initiated a “back-to-basics” acquisition approach for GPS III. The strategy emphasizes early investments in rigorous systems engineering and industry-leading parts standards to significantly reduce risk, improve production predictability, increase mission assurance and lower overall program costs. These investments early in the GPS III program are designed to prevent the types of engineering issues discovered on other programs late in the manufacturing process or even on orbit.

Benefits from the GNST include 50-80 percent reductions in labor hours and defect rates between similar functions on the GNST and the first space vehicle; and the identification of tens of millions of dollars in savings on the production satellites based on process improvements recognized during GNST test and integration.

The Air Force is expected to purchase as many as 32 GPS III satellites. Global Positioning Systems Directorate officials at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center lead the GPS III team. Lockheed Martin is the program’s prime contractor with teammates ITT Exelis, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Infinity Systems Engineering, ATK and other subcontractors. Officials at the Air Force Space Command's 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2SOPS), at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., operates and manages the GPS constellation for military and civil users.


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