GPS III prototype, ground station communicate in ground test

A prototype of a next-generation GPS satellite built by Lockheed Martin connected for the first time to a ground station supplied by Raytheon during a recently completed series of pre-flight tests.

Lockheed Martin said the test version of its jam-resistant GPS III satellite established remote connectivity and communications with Raytheon’s GPS Next Generation Operational Control System during compatibility and integration testing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. The prototype satellite serves as a test bed for confirming satellite functionality. The ground tests showed that the prototype could connect and receive commands from the Raytheon-built ground station.

Lockheed Martin said the prototype had previously connected with controllers in ground-based simulations, but that the integration tests in August marked the first time the ground station and the prototype satellite had actually communicated.

The companies said the tests mirrored satellite launch and early orbit testing planned for all future GPS III satellites. “The positive results tell us that we are right on track for the first GPS III launch,” Matthew Gilligan, program manager for the GPS II ground station program and a vice president at Raytheon’s Intelligence, Information and Services unit, said in a statement.

The first GPS III satellite is expected to be delivered to the Air Force in mid-2014. The first and second satellites in the GPS III constellation are scheduled to be launched in 2014 and 2015.

Lockheed said the next-generation GPS satellites will provide a three-fold increase in accuracy along with an eight-fold increase in anti-jamming capabilities. Technology enhancements are expected to extend the lifetime of the satellite by 25 percent over the previous GPS block, Lockheed Martin claimed.

Raytheon’s GPS III ground station will be able to control current and new military and civilian navigation signals and is intended to counter evolving cyber threats thought to be targeting current GPS systems. The company said it expects to deliver the final version of its GPS III Operational Control System in 2014.

Prime contractor Lockheed Martin is under contract to deliver the first four GPS III satellites to the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. It has also received funding to begin long-lead production on components for an additional four satellites.

The Air Force awarded Lockheed the first GPS III satellite contract in 2008. The company received another contract in January 2012 to build the third and fourth satellites.

Raytheon was awarded a contract in February 2010 to supply the GPS III Operational Control System.

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