First GPS III satellite launched

An artist’s rendering of the GPS III satellite. Image credit: Lockhead Martin.

The first Lockheed Martin-built next generation GPS III satellite has been launched in a demonstration of the potentials of new technology and capabilities in the GPS constellation.

The satellite was launched by the US Air Force from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in late December. Following the successfully launch, engineers and operators from ground control were able to communicate with the satellite. US Air Force and company engineers declared satellite control signal acquisition and rocket booster separation approximately 119 minutes after GPS III SV01’s launch.

The GPS III Space Vehicle 01 is now receiving and responding to commands from Lockheed Martin’s Launch and Checkout Center at the company’s Denver facility.

“In the coming days, GPS III SV01 will use its liquid apogee engines to climb into its operational orbit about 12,550 miles above the earth,” said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for navigation systems.

“We will then send it commands to deploy its solar arrays and antennas, and begin on-orbit checkout and tests, including extensive signals testing with our advanced navigation payload provided by Harris Corporation.”

GPS III SV01 is the first of an entirely new, next generation GPS satellite designed to modernise the GPS constellation. It is expected that spacecraft life will extend to 15 years, 25 percent longer than any of the GPS satellites on-orbit today. GPS III’s new L1C civil signal will also make it the first GPS satellite broadcasting a compatible signal with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Europe’s Galileo, improving connectivity for civilian users.

Once operational, GPS III SV01 will join the 31 satellite strong GPS constellation, which provides positioning, navigation and timing services to more than four billion civil, commercial and military users.

Lockheed Martin developed GPS III and manufactured GPS III SV01 at its GPS III Processing Facility near Denver. GPS III SV01 is the first of 10 GPS III satellites originally ordered by the US Air Force. GPS III SV03-08 are now in various stages of assembly and test.

Air Force and Lockheed Martin engineers are controlling GPS III SV01’s launch and checkout test using elements of the GPS Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) Block 0. Satellite control and operations are expected to shift to the US Air Force’s current Operational Control Segment when GPS III Contingency Operations upgrades are fully implemented later this year.

“This is the Air Force’s first GPS III, so we are excited to begin on-orbit test and demonstrate its capabilities,” Caldwell said. “By this time next year, we expect to also have a second GPS III on orbit and users should be receiving signals from this first satellite.”