GPS III SV04 receives operational acceptance, 1 more needed for M-code

December 2, 2020  - By

The fourth GPS III satellite, space vehicle (SV) 04, received United States Space Force’s Operational Acceptance approval on Dec. 1.

Operational acceptance marks another significant milestone for the GPS III program, Space and Missile Systems Center and USSF, according to the Space Force. This is the fourth GPS III satellite delivered into the operational constellation in the past 12 months and the second in the past three months.

Also, this is the first GPS III vehicle delivered to the warfighter through an expedited satellite control authority transfer process, which cuts 10 days off the previous operational acceptance timeline.

One more to go for M-code capability

“With the onset of SV04, the GPS constellation continues moving forward in next generation modernization,” said Capt. Collin Dart, the 2 SOPS DOA flight commander. “The 2nd Space Operations Squadron is one step closer to providing military code (M-code) capability for the entire 24 satellite baseline.”

“The highly encrypted M-code to protect GPS signals from jamming and spoofing is currently enabled on 22 GPS satellites of various generations; 24 are needed to bring the M-code to the next level of operational capability,” Dart explained. “SV04 brings the constellation to 23 M-code capable vehicles. SV05 will launch no earlier than July 2021. This will add the 24th M-code capable vehicle.”

“M-code signals are more-secure, harder-to-jam and spoof, and are critical to helping our warfighters complete their missions, especially in contested environments,” said Tonya Ladwig, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for Navigation Systems. “GPS III is a warfighting system and we are proud to be helping bring this critical capability to the men and women protecting our nation.”

GPS III SV04 is encapsulated in its protective launch fairings. (Photo: 45th Space Wing Public Affairs)

GPS III SV04 is encapsulated in its protective launch fairings. (Photo: 45th Space Wing Public Affairs)

Faster handover from contractor

SV04 also sets a new standard for handover from contractor Lockheed Martin’s launch team to operational acceptance, setting the satellite healthy to the global user community approximately 30 days post launch, according to Dart. “Moving forward with future GPS III launches, the timeline between launch and the satellite being set healthy will be at a minimum,” he said.

SV04 was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 vehicle on Nov. 5. The Air Force has been flying 31 operational satellites for years to ensure the United States’ commitment to have 24 operational GPS satellites available 95% of the time.

GPS III SV04 joins this operational constellation of 31 GPS satellites orbiting in medium-Earth orbit. The system delivers improved accuracy, advanced anti-jam capabilities and increased resiliency for the GPS III constellation.

Lockheed Martin’s production proceeds

The Space Force declared GPS III SV05 “Available for Launch” in May. The satellite is waiting to be called up”for launch.

GPS III SV06, 07 and 08 are now fully assembled and going through environmental testing at Lockheed Martin’s GPS III Processing Facility in Denver.

GPS III SV09 and 10 are in component build up.

Lockheed Martin is also under contract for up to 22 additional GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) satellites, which introduce further technology and capabilities. In May, Lockheed Martin completed its Critical Design Review for the GPS IIIF and in July, the Space Force declared that GPS IIIF fulfilled “Milestone C,” which means the production phase of the program has officially begun.

“The operational acceptance of GPS III SV04 is another significant milestone for GPS Modernization, delivering critical new capabilities to our Military and Civil Users. We now have a total of 23 M-code spacecraft for our Warfighters. For our billions of civil users, it brings the count up to 23 L2C spacecraft and 16 L5 spacecraft,” said Col. Ryan Colburn, director of the SMC Portfolio Architect Office’s Spectrum Warfare Division. “For professional users with existing dual-frequency operations, L2C enables faster signal acquisition, enhanced reliability, and greater operating range. L5 is broadcast in a radio band reserved exclusively for aviation safety services. It features higher power, greater bandwidth, and an advanced signal design. Future aircraft will use L5 in combination with L1 C/A to improve accuracy (via ionospheric correction) and robustness (via signal redundancy). The operational acceptance of this spacecraft is another display of the fantastic teamwork across SMC’s Corps, Space Delta 8, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Department of Transportation, Federal Aviation Administration, our industry partners and many others who work together to make these missions possible.”

GPS satellites provide position, navigation, and timing to more than four billion military and civilian users worldwide.

A Falcon 9 carrying GPS III SV04 lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Nov 5. (Photo: SpaceX via USAF)

A Falcon 9 carrying GPS III SV04 lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, Nov 5. (Photo: SpaceX via USAF)

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.