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Raytheon delivers the launch and checkout system for next-gen GPS

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The GPS Operational Control System's launch and checkout system will control launch and early orbit operations and the on-orbit checkout of all GPS III satellites.

It’s an important step in the evolution of GPS.

On Sept. 29, 2017, Raytheon’s GPS Next Generation Operational Control System launch and checkout system was delivered to the U.S. Air Force at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, keeping the service on track to launch its first, next-gen GPS III satellite into orbit in 2018.

The GPS OCX launch and checkout system, also called Block 0, provides the computing hardware, operations center workstations and mission application software needed to launch and check the condition of all currently planned GPS III satellites.

“The delivery of the launch and checkout system is a monumental achievement—a milestone that was many years in the making,” said Dave Wajsgras, Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services president. “GPS OCX will be, without a doubt, the most secure system (of its kind) ever produced not only for the U.S. Air Force, but for the entire nation.”

Only days later, on Oct. 3, 2017, the GPS OCX’s launch and checkout system and GPS III “talked” to each other for the first time during a link check.

A month later, on Nov. 2, 2017, the government-industry team completed another big event: Factory Mission Readiness Testing, which validated the command and control interactions between the satellite and the GPS OCX’s launch and checkout system, from simulated launch through early orbit.

“We’re making consistent, steady progress, and that’s driving us toward a successful launch in 2018,” said Bill Sullivan, Raytheon’s GPS OCX program manager.

Because GPS is so broadly used, a system crash would cause serious financial, societal and national security issues. As such, it's a potential target for cyberattacks. To protect the system from hackers, Raytheon used robust cyber protections in OCX, securing the system against malicious cyber threats.

“We provided the Air Force with a cyber-hardened ground system,” said Sullivan, adding that it’s the first major system to be completely compliant with U.S. Department of Defense instructions on implementing information assurance. “We use GPS In our phones, cars and even watches; a disruption due to hacking would be catastrophic to society in general.”

Besides being a national security asset, GPS is a free, global utility, providing position, navigation and timing data critical to information sharing across the globe in almost every industry.

“Airlines, shipping companies, trucking firms, farmers, bankers and drivers everywhere use GPS on a daily basis,” said Anthony Serhal, Raytheon GPS OCX Block 0 team lead. “Many industries can’t do without it.”

Raytheon has begun GPS OCX’s final software development phase, focusing on increasing automation and building controls for both L1C, a civilian GPS signal aimed at increasing international access, and M-code, a military GPS signal with better anti-jam capability. Once complete, the team will begin integration and testing to keep the program on track for full system delivery in June 2021.

“Our team has two primary goals this year,” Wajsgras said. “We will support the U.S. Air Force's GPS III launch this fall and complete the software build for the full operational system by year's end.”

The next-generation GPS will deliver a host of new capabilities, including automation for operational efficiencies, improved accuracy, interoperability with geo-positioning and navigation systems of other nations for better international availability, and anti-jam capability for military users.

“Improved GPS accuracy will mean a lot to our military when they’re using precision munitions,” Sullivan said. “You will not see a big difference on your mobile phone when you’re using it for directions, but those directions will be accurate and safe from hacking and, in the future, when we have self-driving cars on the road, reliability, accuracy and inches will matter.”

Last Updated: 04/10/2018