Directions 2020: Delivering GPS capabilities - GPS World

Directions 2020: Delivering GPS capabilities

December 12, 2019  - By

By Colonel John Claxton
Chief, PNT Mission Integration, Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center

Image: USAF

Image: USAF

The Global Positioning System has provided the citizens of the United States and the world the gold standard for positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) for the past 40 years. These days, GPS is seamlessly integrated into our daily lives in ways that we hardly notice. In fact, most of us expect GPS to be available in much the same way that our lights come on when we flip a switch or water comes out when we use the kitchen faucet.

None of this is easy, however, and wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for the incredible work and communication by the members of the GPS Program Office and our terrific enterprise partners. During the next 18–24 months, the GPS enterprise will deliver the new and more powerful modernized GPS III capabilities across all segments of the system, which have been in the works and promised for the past 8–10 years. As we transition to the Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) 2.0, this is a very exciting time for the GPS program. Below are some updates on our major programs.

Program Updates

GPS III. The space segment of modernized GPS has reached our goals from 2018, and then some. SV01 “Vespucci” launched on Dec. 23, 2018, heralded by celebrations across the GPS community. The GPS III team was honored to share this event with so many giants of the GPS world. We completed space vehicle (SV) 01’s On-Orbit Checkout Test in July, meeting and exceeding all performance objectives, and plan to transfer SV01 Satellite Control Authority from SMC to the 14th Air Force by the end of the year. SV01 then begins operational testing and is expected to be certified for full operations in April 2020.

SV02 “Magellan” launched on Aug. 22 aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Medium rocket — the last Delta of its class — to much fanfare and celebration as well. We completed SV02 orbit raising and initial checkout in early September, and Magellan is next in line to transition to operations in 2020.

We received delivery of SV03 and SV04 from Lockheed Martin Space Systems on May 16 and Sept. 10, respectively, with launches targeted for March and July 2020.

Challenges remain — this business is hard — but the GPS III team is focused on delivering capability: improving and streamlining the largest big-satellite production line in the Department of Defense and driving our launch campaign to bring modernized capabilities, higher power performance, and the shared international L1C signal to the GPS-using world.

Figure 1. Mature Glonass-M satellites show improved cesium frequency standards performance in terms of daily stability. (Image: Roscosmos)

Figure 1. Mature Glonass-M satellites show improved cesium frequency standards performance in terms of daily stability. (Image: Roscosmos)

GPS IIIF. The GPS III Follow-On program looks to continue the success of GPS III as it moves forward in production of the first two GPS IIIF satellites. The program is well into a year-long set of detailed design reviews projected to conclude in March 2020. With Lockheed Martin as the prime contractor for both GPS satellite programs, GPS IIIF can take advantage of production-line improvements learned from GPS III to significantly reduce assembly, integration and test timelines.

Additionally, the program is helping to shape SMC’s Enterprise Commonality Initiative: an effort focused on aligning common products and processes across multiple programs to improve quality, speed up delivery and lower costs. With plans to procure 22 satellites and a delivery timeline spanning 15 years, the program has implemented a technology-insertion strategy and partnered with the Air Force Research Laboratory to ensure a timely transition of new capabilities to meet future military requirements. It is great to see the progress GPS IIIF is making in delivering its new baseline capabilities along with the steps it’s taking toward future capability insertion. The first GPS IIIF satellite launch is forecast for 2026.

GPS Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX). This past year, we used OCX Block 0, also known as the GPS III Launch and Checkout System, to launch and initialize both GPS III SV01 and SV02 and have been flying them in caretaker status until they are ready to be incorporated into the operational constellation. On OCX Block 1, all coding is complete, and the program focus is transitioning from development to system integration, test, and then transitioning the system to operations. Program investments over the past couple of years to change the program culture and modernize the factory infrastructure (often referred to DevOps) is paying off and yielding real-time metrics used to make data-driven decisions and produce higher quality code at a significantly faster rate. As a result, OCX is no longer troubled, but is now a typical large-complex software-intensive program that will experience challenges and risks. Fortunately, the right tools are in place to deliver this critical capability.

GPS Legacy Ground Sustainment. We continue to sustain our existing GPS infrastructure associated with the current Operational Control System (OCS). These sustainment efforts ensure GPS will continue to deliver the gold standard in PNT while providing the crucial on-ramp to incorporate the next generation of modernized GPS capabilities. We operationally accepted the largest OCS upgrade in GPS history. This upgrade, known as Version 7.5, virtualized the network, implemented two-factor authentication, secured connections to worldwide ground antennas, and improved encryption for mission data.

Challenged with a need to rapidly mitigate mission risk and provide enhanced cyber protection, the Red Dragon Cybersecurity Suite (RDCSS) emerged as the GPS OCS monitoring platform, providing data aggregation, analytics and multi-level Indicators of Compromise (IOC). It has evolved into an efficient and effective means to detect, investigate, and report security events and incidents.

Additionally, in August 2019 we established an RDCSS connection into the Space Enterprise Defensive Cyber Operations (DCO) solution, known as the Cyber Defense Correlation Cell for Space. This created a layered defense and a tiered DCO environment for protecting and sustaining the GPS mission.

GPS User Equipment. Over the past year our soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen continued testing and integrating mature, next-generation GPS receiver cards that provide more accurate and reliable positioning, navigation and timing. The first

Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) receiver card was qualified this year, and the core technologies are being leveraged to develop many other types of GPS receiver cards for a wide range of DoD weapon systems. This exciting work is the culmination of nearly two decades of modernization efforts throughout the GPS enterprise.

In the near term, we are utilizing M-code-capable lead platforms — the USAF B-2 Bomber, USMC Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, USN Arleigh-Burke Class Guided Missile Destroyer and Army Stryker combat vehicle — to prove those capabilities. The second increment of MGUE now underway will focus on requirements for precision-guided munitions, a joint common modular handheld unit, as well as circuit cards and components for low size, weight and power needs. With MGUE, the DoD and services are poised to have enduring PNT solutions the warfighter can leverage for years to come.

GPS Integration Roadmaps

Integration of modernized GPS III capabilities into our major programs is a key focus of the GPS Program Office as we deliver capabilities to our warfighter and civilians users. We have continued to refine our plans and further integrate our programs and teams to ensure a seamless transition and continued high level of service.

Enterprise Road to Launch (ERTL). The Road to Launch team achieved an historic victory of firsts in December 2018. We successfully launched GPS III SV01, the first of its class. SMC partnered with SpaceX to launch SV01 aboard a Falcon 9 rocket — their first National Security Space Launch. SV01 reached orbit under the command and control of our first GPS OCX delivery, the GPS III Launch and Checkout System.

This colossal accomplishment of firsts was only possible because of the exceptionally close integration, tenacity and highly collaborative effort among all players in the community — spacecraft, payloads, launch, control, signal monitoring, acquisition, operations, test and many others. For SV01, the ERTL has now passed the torch to the Enterprise Road to Mission team — but the Road to Launch team is as busy as ever.

The mission planners, launch and orbital operations crew ensured SV02 reached medium Earth orbit with needle-threading precision in August; the team is implementing improvements based on experience as we prepare for up to three more GPS III launches in 2020; and we are already ramping up efforts to design the launch campaign for GPS IIIF.

GPS Enterprise Road to Mission (ERM). With two GPS III satellites now on orbit, it is now time to execute the Enterprise “Integration Playbook” we have developed and coordinated over the past year. The Contingency Operations (COps) modification upgrade has now been integrated into OCS on the 2 SOPS operations floor and is undergoing Developmental Testing with the GPS III SV on orbit. The program anticipates operational testing in January 2020 and Operational Acceptance in April 2020. All of our community stakeholders are ready, and with the COps modification to OCS in place, it is time to get the GPS III satellites into mission and start providing its new capabilities to our users. Over the next few months, the GPS III capabilities are expected to be operationally certified and ready for use.

GPS Enterprise Road to M-Code Mission (ERM-M-Code). With COps now in place, the next major delivery will be M-Code Early Use modification to OCS, installation of new M-code signal monitoring equipment at sites around the globe, modification of mission planning software, MGUE Increment 1 development, service lead platform integration efforts, and operationalization of space receivers. It is our continued objective to improve the ability of the Combined Space Operations Center, to respond to urgent PNT needs of the combatant commanders as they engage more sophisticated adversaries. We remain closely aligned with our peers at USSTRATCOM, AFSPC and our worldwide users across the Joint Service and allied team.


It has never been a more exciting time to be part of the GPS program and enterprise. Our outstanding government and contractor teams have worked so incredibly hard on integrating and communicating our programs to ensure the successful and seamless delivery of GPS III capabilities to both our warfighter and civilian users. It is a great world we live in today, and GPS makes it even better.

About the Author: John Claxton

Colonel John Claxton is the chief of PNT mission integration at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center.