Spaceflight Insider

Lockheed Martin, USAF set to upgrade GPS ground support systems

USAF GPS III satellite Lockheed Martin photo posted on SpaceFlight Insider

Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Air Force are working to upgrade ground systems associated with GPS satellites in readiness for the new GPS III system. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

In Dec. 2016, Lockheed Martin, in concert with the U.S. Air Force, announced that it is ready to “proceed with software development and systems engineering to modify the existing GPS ground control system”. These modifications are designed to support the new and more capable GPS III system scheduled for launch in the Spring of 2018 replacing the existing GPS IIR, IIR-M, and IIF satellites.

GPS III navigation satellite being prepared for its mission. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin posted on SpaceFlight Insider

GPS III navigation satellite being prepared for its mission. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

The development of these new systems, according to Lockheed Martin, will allow the Architecture Evolution Plan (AEP) in conjunction with the new GPS III “will deliver three times better accuracy, provide up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities and extend spacecraft life of up to 15 years” – 25 percent longer than the newest GPS satellites on-orbit today.

Also according to Lockheed Martin, the “GPS III’s new L1C civil signal also will make it the first GPS satellite to be interoperable with other international global navigation satellite systems.”

These upgrades to AEP are “envisioned as a temporary gap filler prior to the entire GPS constellation’s transition to operations onto the next generation Operational Control System (OCX) Block 1, currently in development.” In layman’s terms? These upgrades will maximize the capabilities of the aging 31 GPS II satellites that are in use today and fully support the new GPS III systems when they become operational.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) gives users, such as the military, emergency responders, and civilian receivers, a real-time position anywhere on the globe using signals from four different of the 31 satellites currently in orbit.

The first three signals give a person their latitude and longitude and displays it on a receiver like a cellphone or navigation screen. The fourth satellite compares the time the signal was sent to when it was received and calculates a person’s exact altitude giving the user a precise three-dimensional position.

Once the user’s position has been determined, the GPS unit can then calculate other information, such as speed, bearing, track, trip distance, distance to destination, and more.

Though the U.S. currently has 31 GPS satellites in orbit, it takes at least 24 satellites to make up the GPS space segment. The GPS satellites are orbiting the Earth at about 12,000 miles (19,312 km) altitude and are constantly in motion. GPS satellites make two complete orbits about every 24 hours and are traveling at speeds of approximately 7,000 mph (11,265 km/h).

The first GPS satellite was launched in 1978 and a full constellation of 24 satellites was achieved in 1994. GPS satellites transmit two low-power radio signals, designated L1 and L2. Civilian GPS uses the L1 frequency of 1575.42 MHz in the UHF band. The signals travel by line-of-sight, meaning they will pass through clouds, glass, and plastic, but they will not go through most solid objects such as buildings or mountains.

Video courtesy of Lockheed Martin 



David Brown is a commercial photographer and eight year U.S. Army veteran. He has produced imagery for the Los Angeles Times ( arrival of Space Shuttle Endeavour) the Department of the Navy (USS Enterprise) as well as numerous news and travel outlets across the United States. While serving in the military Brown studied criminal science, history, and literature at North Western University and the University of Maryland. The endeavor closest to Brown's heart is his non-profit dog and animal rescue Faces of Allowing him to bring his experience behind the camera and his love of dogs to assist the many rescue organization across the US. Together with his best friend Shutter they have rescued or assisted in the rescue of more than 1,000 dogs since 2013.

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