Oct. 10 (UPI) — The U.S. Air Force has given their final acceptance approval to Lockheed Martin’s GPS III satellite, the company announced on Tuesday.
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, according to the company, and is said to bring “new capabilities to U.S. and allied military forces, and a new civil signal that will improve future connectivity worldwide for commercial and civilian users.”
Lockheed said the GPS III SV01 is the first space vehicle of an entirely new satellite design and is the next generation technology, outpacing the 31 GPS Block II satellites currently in use.
The GPS III SV01 is the first of multiple space vehicles slated to be built by Lockheed Martin. In September 2016, the Air Force awarded the contractor an option for two more Block III satellites, increasing the number of total satellites to be built by Lockheed Martin to ten, according to a previous announcement from the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center.
“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.
Lockheed Martin is now awaiting pre-launch preparation orders from the U.S. Air Force as the GPS III Svo1 sits in an environmentally-controlled clean room, where engineers can perform maintenance and continue to service the satellite, according to the press announcement.
The GPS systems are operated by the U.S. Air Force Space Command and provide precise position, navigation and timing services to worldwide, according to the a Air Force website. Lockheed Martin says the new Block III satellites will provide three times more accuracy to military forces than current 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.
Lockheed Martin says that the GPS III was designed for “today’s mission with an eye on tomorrow’s needs.”
“As we designed GPS III, we knew that mission needs would change in the future and that new technology will become available. We wanted the satellite to be flexible to adapt to those changes,” said Mark Stewart, vice president of Lockheed Martin’s Navigation Systems mission area. “To do that, we intentionally developed GPS III with a modular design. This allows us to easily insert new technology into our production line.”
“Lockheed Martin’s GPS III team owes much of its success to the Air Force’s Back to Basics program,” Stewart added. “We are proud to partner with the Air Force on this important program and look forward to launching the first GPS III satellite in 2018.”
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 civil and military users that have GPS receivers.