WASHINGTON — The U.S. Space Force announced it took operational control of the fifth GPS III satellite, completing the baseline constellation needed for worldwide coverage with a more reliable position, navigation and timing signal.
The newest satellite from the latest generation of more accurate systems is among a larger group of 24 GPS payloads on orbit that are capable of using a new military PNT signal, M-code. More work is needed to enable war fighters to use M-code regularly, but the July 14 announcement indicated baseline completion of the space segment, although more GPS III satellites will be added in the coming years.
“We are very excited because this new block III satellite completes our worldwide (military-code) coverage,” said Lt. Col. Michael Schriever, commander of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, which took operational acceptance of the fifth satellite. “Now we will be able to broadcast the military signal globally in accordance with interface compliance requirements which our team, along with our 19 SOPS counterparts, have been working around the clock to achieve.”
The more secure GPS III satellites offer a significant upgrade over the other GPS satellites still in operation. The newer versions offer three times better accuracy, up to eight times better anti-jamming capabilities and an improved civilian signal.
To allow wide access to M-code, the Space Force is working to develop and distribute receivers capable of utilizing the new anti-jamming signal, while the new GPS ground system has suffered years of delays. The Space Force declared operational acceptance of an interim solution in December that enables a limited version of the signal.
Still, Space Force officials praised the addition of the new advanced satellite to the constellation, with the 2nd Space Operations Squadron assuming operational acceptance June 29, a couple weeks after it was launched into orbit.
“The capabilities this satellite provides are exactly what we need to protect the interests of the United States in, from, and to space, and to enable joint terrestrial and space operations,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, head of Space Operations Command. “We must continue to modernize our existing space architectures with new technologies to provide our warfighters with uninterrupted access to the information they need, when they need it.”
Nathan Strout covers space, unmanned and intelligence systems for C4ISRNET.