Lockheed Martin announced Monday the completion of its third GPS III satellite for the U.S. Air Force.
The satellite is the third of 10 Lockheed is contracted to design and build to form a new GPS network the U.S. military, and a good portion of the civilian population, rely on.
“GPS III Space Vehicle 03 followed the first two GPS III satellites on a streamlined assembly and test production line. Technicians successfully integrated the satellite’s major components — its system module, navigation payload and propulsion core — into one fully-assembled space vehicle on August 14,” the company said in a press release
In September 2016, Lockheed Martin Space Systems was awarded a $395 million U.S. Air Force contract modification for work on GPS III space vehicles 9 and 10, and in October, the Air Force gave their final approval for Lockheed’s first GPS III satellite.
The available for launch designation, or AFL, from the Air Force is the final stage in accepting new technology under Department of Defense regulations. Lockheed Martin’s first GPS III Space Vehicle, or GPS III SV01, is expected to deploy in 2018.
“The GPS III SV 9 and 10 satellites are expected to be ready for launch in 2022, thus sustaining the GPS constellation and the global utility the world has come to expect,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, the Space and Missile Systems Center’s commander and Air Force program executive officer for space.
Lockheed Martin says that all major development risks regarding the GPS III are behind them and the company is now in full production on the other nine GPS III satellites at its GPS III Processing Facility near Denver.
The GPS systems are operated by the U.S. Air Force Space Command and provide precise position, navigation and timing services worldwide. Lockheed says the new Block III satellites will provide three times more accuracy to military forces than satellites in current operation.
The company said it would not give specifics as to how accurate the new technology is but offered an approximation: “Stretch your arms out, we are within that range now.”
The new space vehicles are also equipped with improved anti-jamming capabilities and a stronger design for an expanded lifespan of up to 15 years in operation. Current satellites only have a lifespan of 12 years.
Additionally, the new Block III satellites provide connectivity advantages to the civilian population as the GPS III will give users of civilian GPS receivers greater connectability across global navigation satellite system constellations.
The GPS III team is led by the Global Positioning Systems Directorate at the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. The Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron, or 2SOPS, based out of Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, is the unit that manages and operates the GPS constellation for both civilian and military users that have GPS receivers.