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USAF provided with software upgrade for GPS III

GPS III satellite being encapsulated into its payload fairing prior to its launch in 2018. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

GPS III satellite being encapsulated into its payload fairing prior to its launch in 2018. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Five months after being awarded the GPS Control Segment Sustainment II (GCS II) contract, Lockheed Martin has started delivering on that contract.

On May 22 the Colorado-based company transferred the GPS III Contingency Operations (COps) software upgrade to the United States Air Force. This upgrade will be added to the current GPS ground control system and should allow the USAF to start operating the new GPS III spacecraft alongside their GPS II predecessors.

“Positioning, Navigation and Timing is a critical mission for our nation and COps will allow the Air Force to gain early access to its new GPS III satellites,” said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Navigation Systems via a company-issued release. “We just finished Final Qualification Testing and delivery on COps, and it will be integrated and installed on the AEP OCS over the summer. We look forward to the Air Force ‘flying’ a GPS constellation on the COps OCS which includes the new GPS III satellites, later this year.”

AEP OCS is scheduled to undergo another upgrade some time next year (2020) via the M-Code Early Use (MCEU). Given the threats of the modern age, it is hoped that this upgrade will secure the system against anti-jamming and other dangers the constellation faces. 

While software is nice, in this case, it’s hardware that gets the job done. The new GPS III spacecraft are being produced now, with one already deployed (it was launched in Dec. 2018 atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket). The second satellite (GPS III SV01) in the series is currently scheduled to launch in July (2019), four months after its arrival at Cape Canaveral. 

If things continue to go as planned, AEP OCS will “modernize and sustain” the GPS fleet through 2025. Lockheed Martin has been selected to produce 32 GPS III/IIIF spacecraft. The software supporting this fleet requires upgrades at regular intervals.

It will be a while, the launch of the eleventh GPS III satellite, but eventually the spacecraft will, according to a release issued by Lockheed Martin: “...include a fully digital navigation payload, Regional Military Protection, an accuracy-enhancing laser retroreflector array, and a Search & Rescue payload” – which will be a part of the IIIF constellation’s capabilities. 

It’s hard to place multi-million dollar satellites on orbit, but ensuring the systems on the ground are able to use them effectively is no small task either. GPS Architecture Evolution Plan Operational Control System (AEP OCS) is design to help handle operating both the GPS II spacecraft on orbit, as well as the GPS III system that will replace it. AEP OCS should remain in service until the Operational Control System (OCX) Block 1 comes into service.

According to Lockheed Martin: GPS III will deliver three times better accuracy and provide up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities. GPS III’s new L1C civil signal will make it the first GPS satellite to be interoperable with other international global navigation satellite systems.





Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology,, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

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