The U.S. Air Force is getting ready to deliver the first of its next-generation GPS III satellites into orbit later this year, and expects the new satellites to deliver significant capability improvements. But much work also needs to be done on Earth to make sure the Air Force is able to get the most out of the platforms.
That’s why Lockheed Martin will begin a series of updates to the architecture’s ground control system following the initial launch, according to a statement from the company. These updates will give the Air Force get a head start on testing and operations before the majority of the constellation is in place.
The Air Force placed Lockheed Martin on contract in 2016 and 2017 to upgrade the existing Architecture Evolution Plan (AEP) Operational Control System (OCS) called GPS III Contingency Operations (COps) and M-Code Early Use (MCEU), respectively. Just as the GPS III satellites themselves are equipped with improved anti-jamming technology and more accurate signals transmission capability, the ground systems and software that control them need to be upgraded as well.
The Air Force has also worked with Raytheon on the estimated $6 billion Operational Control Segment program, often referred to as OCX. That program is expected to serve as the primary ground control system for the GPS III program but has been behind schedule. SpaceNews recently reported the target completion date for Block 1 of the program is June 2021. Block O, the launch and checkout system, was delivered in September 2017.
Lockheed Martin’s contingency program will allow the existing control system to support and integrate more powerful GPS III satellites. Modifications will support GPS III satellites in their position, navigation and timing missions, coordinating their movement with GPS IIR, IIR-M and IIF satellites already in orbit.
A second set of upgrades, known as the MCEU modernization program, will focus on the development of M-Code, a new advanced signal designed to improve anti-jamming and anti-spoofing capabilities. The program will improve the existing ground system and allow it to task, upload and monitor M-Code within the GPS constellation. In other words, MCEU modernization will help the Air Force integrate and test GPS III satellites into the current constellation earlier.
COps is on schedule for delivery in May 2019 and MCEU is scheduled for delivery in January 2020.
Daniel Cebul is an editorial fellow and general assignments writer for Defense News, C4ISRNET, Fifth Domain and Federal Times.