Spaceflight Insider

Lockheed Martin submits proposal for US Air Force’s GPS IIIF program

Artist's rendering of GPS III satellite. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Artist’s rendering of a GPS III satellite. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin has submitted a proposal for the U.S. Air Force’s GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) program, which would add new capabilities to new GPS satellites. Up to 22 next-generation spacecraft are expected to be produced under this program.

The first 10 of the Air Force’s GPS III satellites are currently being assembled at Lockheed Martin’s GPS III processing facility near Denver.  The $128 million facility was designed in a virtual reality environment to increase efficiency and reduce the costs of satellite production, the company said.

“When we developed our design for the first 10 GPS III, we used a flexible, modular architecture that would allow for the insertion of modern technologies and new Air Force requirements in a low-risk manner,” said Johnathon Caldwell, program manager for Lockheed Martin’s Navigation Systems mission area, via a company issued release. “In addition, our GPS IIIF solution is based off a design already proven compatible with both the Air Force’s next generation Operational Control System (OCX) and the existing GPS constellation.”

Lockheed Martin said the new GPS IIIF satellites will utilize a fully-digital navigation payload, while the first 10 GPS III satellites have a payload that is some 70 percent digital.

GPS has helped revolutionize navigational services. The GPS III fleet is designed to increase accuracy some three times and anti-jamming capabilities some eight times. These satellites have a planned mission life of about 15 years—25 percent longer than the newest GPS satellites in service today, Lockheed Martin said.

Thanks to the satellites’ L1C civil signal, the company said the GPS III satellites will be able to interact with other international global navigation satellite systems, such as the European Galileo system.

The GPS IIIF satellites are expected to be equipped with a regional military protection capability, which is intended to increase anti-jamming support and ensure that that U.S. and allied forces cannot be denied access to GPS in hostile environments. Additionally, Lockheed Martin said every GPS IIIF satellite will include a laser retro-reflective array, which would allow the satellite to be positioned with ground-based laser precision, enhancing the accuracy of the positioning signals they generate.

The U.S. government is expected to provide each GPS IIIF satellite with a new search and rescue payload, which would be spread around the globe, Lockheed Martin said, and is designed to make it easier for emergency signals to be detected by first responders.

Lockheed Martin’s first GPS III satellite was declared Available for Launch (AFL) by the Air Force  in September 2017. GPS III Space Vehicle 01 (GPS III SV01) is currently in storage awaiting call up for launch.

GPS III SV02 finished Thermal Vacuum (TVAC) testing in December 2017, and currently undergoing final environmental testing. This satellite is expected to be declared AFL in summer 2018.

As for the next satellites, GPS III V03 recently began TVAC, Lockheed Martin said, and SV04 was recently integrated and is expected to begin environmental testing this summer. GPS III SV05 has received its navigation and is currently in final vehicle build up. GPS III SV06 has begun its initial build and GPS III SV07 is expected to begin production later this spring (2018).

Lockheed Martin said over 90 percent of the parts for all 10 GPS III satellites have been received from over 250 aerospace companies in 29 states.

Multiple GPS III satellites in production at Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility near Denver, Colorado. Image credit: Lockheed Martin

Multiple GPS III satellites in production at Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility near Denver. Image credit: Lockheed Martin



Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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