Spaceflight Insider

Second GPS III satellite completes strenuous launch environment test

GPS III satellite. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

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

Before a satellite can begin its operational life on orbit, it must first survive the extreme sound pressure and punishing vibrations caused by over 700,000 pounds-force (3,110 kilonewtons) of rocket thrust. On July 13, 2017, Lockheed Martin‘s second GPS III satellite (GPS III SV02) successfully completed acoustic environmental testing.

During the acoustic testing, the GPS III SV02 satellite was blasted by high-powered horns capable of producing sound up to 140 decibels. This is about as noisy as an aircraft carrier deck and is loud enough to shake loose anything on the satellite not properly attached.

“With this launch-simulation test, we are talking about sophisticated, advanced satellite technology and electronics enduring tremendous forces and then working flawlessly afterward,” said Mark Stewart, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Navigation Systems. “Passing this test with GPS III SV02 further validates the robustness of our GPS III design. We credit this success and risk-retirement to all the pathfinding work we accomplished early in the program.”

The GPS III SV02 satellite is part of the U.S. Air Force’s next generation of GPS satellites. GPS III will have three times greater accuracy than current GPS satellites and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities. The satellites have a designed life expectancy of up to 15 years – 25 percent longer than the latest GPS satellites currently in orbit.

The GPS III satellites will broadcast the new L1C civil signal that will make them the first GPS satellites to be interoperable with other international global navigational systems. The L1C signal will achieve full operational potential when broadcast from at least 24 GPS III satellites, currently projected for the late 2020s.

GPS III SV02 acoustic test

On July 13, 2017, the U.S. Air Force’s second GPS III space vehicle (GPS III SV 02) successfully completed acoustic testing. The test simulated the extreme sound wave pressure and pounding vibrations generated by more than 700,000 lbf of thundering rocket thrust during launch. During acoustic testing, the GPS III SV02 satellite was continuously blasted with deafening sound reaching 140 decibels in a specialized test chamber equipped with high-powered horns. Passing this test [has] further validated the robustness of Lockheed Martin’s GPS III design. Photo & Caption Credit: Lockheed Martin

GPS III SV02 is Lockheed Martin’s second GPS III satellite to complete acoustic testing. GPS III SV01 completed acoustic testing in fall 2015 and is currently in storage awaiting its expected 2018 launch.

The GPS III SV02 satellite is currently being prepared for Thermal Vacuum (TVAC) testing, where it will be subjected to extreme heat and cold in zero atmospheres, simulating conditions on-orbit. The satellite is expected to be delivered to the U.S. Air Force in early 2018.

GPS III SV02 is the second of 10 GPS satellites that Lockheed Martin is manufacturing for the Air Force at the company’s GPS III processing facility near Denver, Colorado. The $128 million factory includes a specialized cleanroom and testing chambers designed to streamline spacecraft production.

GPS III satellite design includes a modular architecture that allows for the addition of new technology as it becomes available or as mission needs change. Satellites using this design are compatible with both the Air Force’s next-generation Operational Control System (OTX) and the existing GPS constellation.

Video courtesy of 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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