GPS III Satellite

Satellite Communications

Air Force expects delay in GPS III satellite delivery

The GPS III satellite program is expected to miss a critical deadline due to a delay of its Exelis-provided navigational payload, though Air Force officials say they are confident it will not delay the overall constellation of Lockheed Martin satellites.

The first GPS III satellite was originally expected to be delivered this year, but the delay may push the delivery date into 2015.

Gen. William Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command, has expressed displeasure at the payload delivery delay, but has noted that the Air Force had planned to launch the satellite after the delivery date, allowing for some leeway in scheduling.

“I think the date was at the end of FY14 and we’re going to slip well past that now. But we hadn’t intended to launch this thing until into ’15 anyway. So that’s why I say I think we’re going to be fine,” he said this week at a breakfast in Washington, Defense News reported. “We haven’t determined exactly what the slip is going to be. Maybe we can still make what was going to be our date, but in terms of their contracting date, that’s where we’re going to drive past.”

The delay highlights the DOD’s desire for increased industry competition for expensive contracts, particularly since Exelis has been the sole provider of navigational systems for previous GPS satellites. The GPS III program currently costs $9.27 billion.

The delay is largely a result of integration problems. “The problems were largely first-time development and integration issues, including required design changes to eliminate ‘signal crosstalk,’ or interference between the signals on the satellite,” Lockheed spokesman Chip Eschenfelder said in a statement reported by Defense News.

The GPS III program is expected to affordably replace legacy GPS satellites and provide upgraded capabilities. The new satellites will provide eight times more effective anti-jamming capabilities, deliver three times the accuracy, and have a 25 percent longer spacecraft life, according to Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin powered up the second GPS III satellite earlier this month, and is continuing further electrical and software-hardware testing. The Air Force has plans to build up to 32 satellites for the GPS constellation.

About the Author

Joey Cheng is an editorial fellow with Defense Systems.

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