GPS III satellite mockup. (via Lockheed Martin)


Access to Global Positioning Systems has become an essential component of most of today’s technologies, found in everything from cell phones, to computers, navigational systems, and even autonomous shipping containers. The GPS satellite constellation, now consisting of 31 operational satellites in orbit, was originally intended for military use but is now accessed by several industries, including: farming, construction, communication, financial markets, energy grid applications, and of course, military technologies. Though GPS has worked tremendously since its inception, the US Air Force launched the GPS III program with Lockheed Martin looking to improve upon the previous iteration.


Lockheed Martin has now finally announced that the next-gen GPS III satellite system has been powered up and is ready for testing. The global security and aerospace company is not new to working with the Air Force - they’ve previously designed and built 21 GPS IIR satellites for them several years ago. This time, they are under contract to produce the first four GPS III modules with subsequent component support on the fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth satellites.


The GPS III team, led by the GPS Directorate at the US Air Force Space and Missile Systems center, comprises of Lockheed as the main contractor with alongside fellow contractors such as ITT Exelis, General Dynamics, Infinity Systems Engineering, Honeywell, ATK and others.


GPS III will replace the fleet of rapidly aging satellites with a plethora of improvements for the orbiting tech. The new system builds upon the previous iteration with improved positioning, navigation, and timing services and a much superior security system with advanced anti-jamming capabilities improving the system’s overall accuracy and dependability. What does that all mean for end-users? GPS III will be three times as accurate as the old GPS, increasing the reliability of navigational and communication systems. It will also deliver three times the power as the old satellites designated for military use. An added feature also provides a “civil signal” that will allow cooperative signal transfer between other international navigation satellites.


Now that the system has been turned on, Lockheed will be able to put their GPS Processing Facility to good use. The satellite will undergo an assembly-line style testing procedure known as the Assembly, Integration, and Test (AI&T) operation for further evaluation. The ultimate goal is to deliver a production-ready satellite for launch by a 2014 deadline. As Lockheed Martin’s GPS overview suggests, the successful implementation of the GPS III system will further increase our capability of knowing the world.