Countdown to next-gen GPS

Six things to know about the new GPS III satellite

Artist's rendering of the GPS III satellite in medium-Earth orbit. Raytheon's GPS OCX system will help with the launch and checkout of the new navigation satellites.

The U.S. Air Force launched Vespucci, the first advanced GPS III satellite, on December 23 from Cape Canaveral on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Raytheon’s GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System maneuvered the satellite into orbit.

The launch and checkout system GPS OCX Block 0 was critically important in positioning Vespucci and will prepare the new satellite for operation.

GPS III joins 31 operational GPS II satellites already in orbit and soon be delivering positioning, navigation and timing services for GPS users. The new satellite is named after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for which the Americas were named.

Here is a countdown of launch facts:

5. A series of firsts

Vespucci is the first in a series of GPS-III satellites planned for launch over the next several years, delivering three times greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities over the previous generation of satellites. It’s also the first GPS satellite to launch on a SpaceX rocket – a Falcon 9 – and first to use GPS OCX.

“We’re breaking new ground in a number of areas,” said Jayson Cowley, Raytheon's GPS OCX mission readiness campaign senior manager.

4. Cyber hardened

The ground system has achieved the highest level of cybersecurity protections of any U.S. Department of Defense space system, implementing 100 percent of the DoD's 8500.2 Defense in Depth information assurance standards, and without waivers. Its open architecture allows it to adopt new capabilities and signals as they become available, ensuring continued protection against new cyber attacks.

“We’re cognizant that the cyber threat will always change, so we’ve built GPS OCX to evolve and to make sure it’s always operating at this level of protection,” said Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon's Intelligence, Information and Services business, which built GPS OCX.

3. Getting it

In addition to GPS OCX’s role, RGNext, a joint venture between Raytheon and General Dynamics IT, provided support to ensure the safe launch of the Falcon 9 rocket with the GPS III satellite. RGNext operates the launch range on behalf of the U.S. Air Force, providing maintenance, range safety, weather monitoring, communication and surveillance support for all defense, civil and commercial launches at the range.

"RGNext's launch of GPS III is a routine mission for us, but it's very pleasing that Raytheon is such a major player in the payload," said Don McMonagle, an RGNext program manager and former astronaut.

2. Blasting off

Once the GPS III constellation becomes fully operational in 2021, it will boast a host of new features. A new civilian signal called L1C will increase interoperability with other global GPS systems and the new GPS III’s M-code signal for military use will provide increased anti-jam capability and better penetration into hard-to-reach locations. And with three times greater accuracy, both civilians and the military will benefit.

“While benefits to civil navigation might be more obvious, greater accuracy will benefit many industries – like agriculture, for instance. Precision farming saves water and fertilizer and reduces waste,” said Bishi Das, Raytheon GPS OCX Launch and Checkout System director. “It’s going to do a lot more than help you navigate to the closest coffee shop or find your phone.”

1. From Earth

The SpaceX rocket got the satellite up to about 750 miles into space before it disengaged; then the spacecraft took 10 days, burning seven times, to get itself into operational orbit at about 12,500 miles into space.

“Raytheon’s GPS OCX launch and checkout system commanded the satellite to execute key maneuvers, including controlling the burns to get the satellite into desired orbit,” Das said. “The GPS III is a big spacecraft and the operational orbit is pretty far up there – a medium-Earth orbit.”

0. Six months

Now in orbit, satellite operators on workstations in Waterton, Colorado, will interface with Raytheon’s GPS OCX Launch and Checkout System equipment at Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron, based at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. The 2SOPS manages and operates the GPS constellation for civil and military users.

“The Air Force will spend six months testing the satellite’s health and functioning with Raytheon’s Launch and Checkout System before it becomes fully operational and joins the constellation of GPS satellites,” Das said. “Our system connects the Air Force’s brainpower to the GPS satellite so they can test it, do day-to-day housekeeping and control it.”

Published On: 12/06/2018
Last Updated: 01/07/2019