Going beyond the newest generation of GPS

April 22, 2019  - By
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U.S. positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) capabilities are vitally important to millions of civilians, as well as U.S. and allied militaries.

The third Navigation Technology Satellite will go beyond GPS III —­ whose capabilities, mark you, are not yet online — to investigate new experimental antennas, flexible and secure signals, increased automation and use of commercial ground assets.

By Joe Rolli, Harris Corporation

Space and Intelligence Segment. (Photo: Harris Corporation)

Joe Rolli, Director of Business Development,
Space and Intelligence Segment. (Photo: Harris Corporation)

Over the past decade, military leadership and national strategists have shared their concerns about U.S. dependence on GPS for everything from financial transactions to commercial transportation scheduling to precision weapon system guidance.

The new generation of Air Force GPS satellites, which began launching in late 2018, marks a significant step toward improving GPS services with three times greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities over the previous GPS satellite block.

Now the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Space and Missile Systems Center are focusing the Department of Defense’s first experimental Navigation Technology Satellite (NTS) in more than 40 years: on initiatives that will demonstrate new tactics, techniques, and procedures to improve PNT resiliency and counter threats to GPS.

As a unique satellite that flies outside of the GPS constellation, NTS-3 will host experiments with impact across the PNT user spectrum — military, civil, academic and commercial. It will explore innovations in atomic clocks, antennas, reprogrammable digital waveform detectors, signals and other technologies.

Harris, the satellite prime contractor for NTS-3, is approaching these mission innovations from the standpoints of responsiveness and resiliency as well as technology advancement. For example, the design will support the simultaneous broadcast of dual-frequency, regional high power, and Earth coverage signals. An agile waveform platform will demonstrate the ability to rapidly develop and deploy new signal waveforms with total flexibility throughout the satellite life cycle. These innovations will allow operation in multiple contested environments, a key to achieving resiliency that can combat electronic jamming, spoofing and more.

Another strategy is the design of a modular NTS-3 payload that can be reprogrammed in space. Based on open, industry standards and interfaces, the payload will be scalable and can be hosted on diverse platforms and in varied orbits with minimal changes.

When NTS-3 launches for its planned one-year experimental campaign — anticipated to begin in 2022 — it will be the latest in a series of experimental spacecraft that have blazed the trail for the extraordinary technological advances that led to the GPS system we enjoy today

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