The U.S. Air Force added a new spacecraft to its military arsenal that offers an extended lifespan of up to 15 years, as opposed to the current lifespan of 12 years for existing satellites.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems recently completed the assembly of the GPS III Space Vehicle 03 satellite, as part of a contract to build 10 GPS III satellites.
Mark Stewart, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for navigation systems, said that the Air Force’s Back to Basics program mostly reduced the risk of developing the GPS III satellites. The company expects the GPS III’s modern capabilities, including three times more accuracy, to go online in 2018. By the same year, the Air Force said that it would launch the first GPS III satellite into space.
The second spacecraft under contract may also be delivered next year, according to Lockheed Martin. It completed integration work, acoustic testing and thermal vacuum testing for the GPS III SV02 in May, June and August, respectively. Testing equipment for spacecraft has become more common and varied in recent years, aside from military purposes. A multi-element GNSS simulator from CAST Navigation, for instance, allows commercial companies to test their own satellite projects before deploying them into space.
Lockheed Martin assembled the GPS III SV03 satellite in a $128 million high-tech facility in Denver. The company now works on preparing the satellite for environmental testing. The satellite’s design focused on a flexible and modular concept, which allows the Air Force to update it with new technology.
Compatibility will not be an issue as well, since the design already aligns with the requirements of the Air Force’s Operational Control System and existing fleet of GPS satellites.
The Air Force’s use of the first GPS III satellite in 2018 will determine whether Lockheed Martin’s design truly offers better capabilities than the military’s existing space constellation.