Final GPS II satellite goes into orbit as Air Force gets ready for GPS III

With the launch Friday of the twelfth and final GPS IIF satellite, the Air Force is preparing for its eventual transition to the delayed GPS III constellation.

United Launch Alliance successfully launched an Atlas V rocket Friday morning carrying the GPS IIF-12 craft, completing the second generation of the GPS program, which started in 1989 and has since included a total of 62 satellites.

Meanwhile, the Air Force this week awarded Lockheed Martin a $94 million contract modification to provide contingency operations for GPS III satellites that are launched before the Next Generation Operational Control System, or OCX, is in place. The first of 32 GPS III satellites is projected to be launched in 2017, but delays will push OCX’s appearance beyond that. In December, Gen. John Hyten, commander of the Air Force Space Command, called the OCX program, being handled by contractor Raytheon, “a disaster” and said the Pentagon was planning on significant changes with the program.

The U.S. military, and much of the world, relies on the Global Positioning System for accurate location and navigation services. The Block IIF satellites, which provide improved signals over previous second-generation spacecraft, will help keep service in place until the eventual arrival of Block III, which reportedly will have a 25 percent longer lifespan, three times the accuracy and eight times the anti-jamming capability.

Funding cuts and some technical programs have slowed down the development of Block III, although the program got back on track early last year, with the Air force and Lockheed saying they were ready to begin testing.

Under the contract for contingency operations, Lockheed will also provide GPS III satellite vehicle simulation modules, a GPS simulator and updates to the GPS Positional Training Emulator. The contract is expected to run through Dec. 31, 2019.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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