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First GPS III satellite shipped to Cape Canaveral for launch

August 28, 2018  - By

The first GPS III satellite has been delivered to Florida for launch in December on a SpaceX rocket.

On Aug. 20, Lockheed Martin shipped GPS III SV01 to Cape Canaveral. GPS III SV01 is the first of 10 new GPS III satellites being built under U.S. Air Force contract and in full production at Lockheed Martin.

Designed and built at Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility near Denver, the satellite was transported in a custom container from the Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado to the cape on a massive Air Force C-17 Globemaster III aircraft originating from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington. On Aug. 21, it arrived at the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida.

The first GPS III satellite is loaded aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 at Buckley AFB, Colorado, to begin processing for a December launch aboard a SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Lt. Col. Erin Gulden)

The first GPS III satellite is loaded aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 at Buckley AFB, Colorado, to begin processing for a December launch aboard a SpaceX rocket from Cape Canaveral. (Photo: U.S. Air Force/Lt. Col. Erin Gulden)

Start the Clock. The delivery of Satellite Vehicle 01 (SV01) starts the clock for final testing and checkout of the space vehicle prior to launch. The satellite will be processed at the Astrotech Space Operations Florida facility.

A government and contractor team will ensure the integrity of the satellite after shipment by performing a Mission Readiness Test to verify the health and safety of the vehicle, as well as communication compatibility with the ground operations center.

The team will then prepare for propellant loading and encapsulate the satellite in its protective fairing. At the completion of these activities, the satellite will be headed for a first-of-its-kind horizontal integration with the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.

GPS III improvements. GPS III will be the most powerful and resilient GPS satellite ever put on orbit. Developed with an entirely new design, for U.S. and allied forces it will have three times greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities over the previous GPS II satellite design block, which makes up today’s GPS constellation.

GPS III also will be the first GPS satellite to broadcast the new L1C civil signal. Shared by other international global navigation satellite systems, like Galileo, the L1C signal will improve future connectivity worldwide for commercial and civilian users.

“The shipment of the first GPS III satellite to the launch processing facility is a hallmark achievement for the program,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) commander and program executive officer for Space. “The modernization of GPS has been an outstanding collaborative effort and this brings us another step closer to launch.”

Vespucci. The satellite is dubbed “Vespucci” in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for whom the Americas were named.

The transportation crew consisted of both contractor and government personnel who oversaw the entire operation to ensure that the conditions of the transport environment would not damage any of the satellite’s sensitive components, the Air Force said.

“While the launch of the last GPS IIF satellite marked the end of an era, the upcoming GPS III launch will be the start of a brand new one,” said Col. Steven Whitney, director of the GPS Directorate. “It is the first of our new GPS III satellites, first to integrate with a SpaceX rocket, first to interact with elements of GPS’ Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) Block 0, and first to have spacecraft acquisition and on-orbit checkout from Lockheed Martin facilities. We are excited to be at this point and we are ready for the upcoming launch of Vespucci.”

December Launch. The modernized GPS III SV01 is slated to launch in December. It will augment the current constellation of 31 operational GPS satellites. GPS delivers the gold standard in positioning, navigation, and timing services supporting vital U.S. and allied operations worldwide, and underpins critical financial, transportation and agricultural infrastructure that billions of users have come to depend on daily.

“Once on orbit, the modern technology of this first GPS III space vehicle will begin playing a major role in the Air Force’s plan to modernize the GPS satellite constellation,” said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin’s program manager for navigation systems. “We are excited to start bringing GPS III’s new capabilities to the world and proud to continue to serve as a valued partner for the Air Force’s positioning, navigation and timing mission systems.”

About the Author: Tracy Cozzens

Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.