The System: GPS III Endures Bad Press, IIAs an OCX Concern

May 1, 2012  - By
Image: GPS World

GPS III Endures Bad Press, IIAs an OCX Concern

Reports in daily news media such as the Washington Post and Denver Post that “Lockheed Martin will lose its entire fee of about $70 million to defray an 18 percent cost overrun” on GPS III satellites misconstrue the facts.

Don Jewell, contributing editor for GPS World, said after informal talks with key Lockheed executives, “This is a good story, but it has been sensationalized.”

Lockheed Martin’s fee is 5 percent of the target cost, which includes one-time engineering tasks, test equipment, and satellite assembly, according to the Air Force.

The first GPS III satellite remains on schedule to be available for launch in 2014, Lockheed Martin spokesman Michael Friedman said via email.

“While we have encountered challenges associated with higher standards for parts testing and first-time technical issues, the program is on firm footing and our cost estimate remains within the original Air Force budget,” Friedman stated, adding that the company doesn’t discuss specifics of fees.

“In their defense,” Jewell reports, “the program was initially identified as stable with no government change request allowed, to keep it on schedule and budget. The recent budget furor has introduced chaos into the requirements process and contributed significantly to the increased costs.”

Lockheed Martin is using a full-sized prototype to identify and solve many assembly issues “that would have cost more and presented more risk if they had been discovered later in production,” Lockheed’s Friedman said.

“We have identified tens of millions of dollars in cost savings for the production satellites and in some cases we are seeing 50 to 80 percent reductions in labor costs,” he added.

Ground Control to Aged Birds

By Don Jewell

One of the long-standing issues for support of IIA vehicles after the future GPS Operational Ground Control Segment’s (OCX’s) ready-to-operate (RTO) date, which should fall in December 2016 at the latest, is what ground command-and-control (C2)system will steer GPS IIA satellites, do navigation uploads, and so on. The issue is that AEP, the current C2 system, will no longer be available once the transition to OCX takes place, and OCX has no requirement to control IIA satellites.

The OCX program, which struggled early, is now under new program leadership within Raytheon Space Systems, and while Ray Kolibaba, the new OCX program manager, is making great progress, OCX does not need to be burdened with additional requirements at this stage of the program.

Just how big an issue is GPS IIA C2? Initially the Aerospace projections were that there would only be one or two GPS IIAs left on orbit in 2017, and it was not worth the costs to include the C2 software for the legacy system in the new software code. However, I have long maintained that Aerospace and Space Missile Systems Command (SMC) neglected to count the residual satellites, maintained by Launch, Anomaly, and Disposal Operations (LADO), which might very well actually amount to 3–4 additional IIAs. Added to the two IIAs on orbit, this could amount to six IIA SVs that need to be maintained.

The solution announced during the week at the National Space Symposium (NSS, April 16–19) by General William Shelton, the four-star chief of Air Force Space Command, is to fund the current LADO operator, Braxton Technologies, to build in this support for the IIAs. This is significant for several reasons: One, of course, is that it solves the IIA C2 issues, it does it now, and at a relatively modest cost, and it utilizes more of the capabilities of the Braxton Technologies’ LADO software. Additionally it provides a true backup capability for assets on orbit that become increasingly valuable as the number of available launch slots for GPS decreases.

Braxton Technologies initially demonstrated this capability years ago in a lifeboat drill during the transition to AEP, but the navigation upload capability was never maintained for LADO after the successful transition. This is certainly a step in the right direction and provides a simple solution to a vexing problem that has plagued the GPS program for the last several years.

Dual Launch. I asked General Shelton if he would support an approach that would allow the United States to go to dual launch of GPS III on vehicles 5–6 instead of waiting until 8–9 as planned today. He said the Air Force would certainly support that, and is looking at making it possible with vehicle 7 currently. That will come even sooner if the program advances with glitches.

I also asked him about the gap between GPS III launch and OCX RTO. The gap seems to be getting wider, not narrower, and he agreed that OCX could probably not move to the left, and GPS III has moved significantly to the left, so this is still an issue that needs to be addressed. There are plans in place, but the recent budget activity has caused some uncertainty.

Sequestration. On the subject of sequestration — a highly charged Congressional effort to force another $500 billion-plus in additional defense cuts — General Shelton said it would come on top of the approximately $487 billion already cut from programs, and that many space programs might be unsustainable in their current mode if that occurs.

However, the U.S. Armed Services have been informed by the White House Office of Management and Budget not to make plans for sequestration. So right now, the services and other agencies of the U.S. government have been forbidden to make programmatic decisions based on a possible sequestration. Interesting.

By the way, attendance at NSS this year surpassed 9,000.

Galileo Launches Accelerated, First Payload Shipped

Javier Benedicto, head of the Galileo Project Office for the European Space Agency (ESA), set an aggressive schedule for launching some Galileo satellites as many as four at a time in 2014 and 2015, to meet a target provision date of Galileo initial services in 2014 and full services in 2015. The announcement came at the Munich Summit, March 14.

The hurry-up to carry 22 satellites into orbit proceeds with dual-satellite launches aboard Russian Soyuz rockets, as was the case for the most recent in-orbit validation (IOV) launch in October 2011. There will be three Soyuz launches in 2013, for a total of six new satellites in orbit, and two Soyuz launches in 2014, adding four more. Then the burden will shift to European rockets from Arianespace, according to a contract signed in February of this year. One Ariane 5 rocket is slated to carry four Galileo satellites aloft in 2014, bringing the projected total of IOV and eventually operational Galileo satellites in space to 16 by the end of 2014. ESA had ealier aired plans for further Soyuz IOV launches in 2012, but the Munich statement did not mention these.

In 2015, two more Ariane 5 launches will add eight satellites, for a total on orbit of 24, estimated to be sufficient for Galileo full operational capability (FOC).

In subsequent talks with European satellite manufacturers OHB Systems and Astrium, GPS World contributing editor Don Jewell was told that the future launch schedule is “subject to change.”

ESA headquarters has made no official announcement of a detailed launch schedule; inquiries regarding the Benedicto remarks were referred to the February contract statement, cited above.

Payloads. Meanwhile, Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) delivered the first of 14 FOC satellite payloads to prime contractor OHB System AG, for mechanical integration of the payload with the satellite platform and the beginning of overall vehicle assembly, integration, and testing for what will eventually become the fifth satellite in the Galileo constellation.

Compass on the Grow

Discussions in Internet forums indicate that the next BeiDou-2/Compass launch will take place on or about April 28, after this magazine goes to press. The launch purportedly will place two mid-Earth orbit satellites into space: BeiDou M3 and BeiDou M4. Sometime in June, plans call for BeiDou M2 and BeiDou M5 to be launched.