Lockheed Martin's Global Positioning System III (GPS III) satellites pathfinder

The Lockheed Martin team tasked with developing the Global Positioning System III (GPS III) satellites has completed a major integration and test event on the satellite’s pathfinder, known as GPS III Non-Flight Satellite Testbed (GNST), for the US Air Force (USAF).

Lockheed Martin integrated the GNST with navigation payload, which includes atomic clocks for improved GPS accuracy, and the mission data unit at its GPS processing facility (GPF) while the test was completed prior to integrating the full navigation payload element.

The navigation payload element is expected to be delivered to the GPF by the end of 2012.

Lockheed Martin’s Navigation Systems mission area vice president, Keoki Jackson, said: "The GNST is the cornerstone of the air force’s ‘back-to-basics’ acquisition approach, and this milestone demonstrates that GPS III is on track and the acquisition strategy is working.

"As we continue learning lessons on the GNST and move into full scale satellite production, we expect to continually streamline our processes and reduce per unit costs."

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Lessons learned on the GNST have led the team to identify early efficiencies such as 50-80% reduction in labour hours while saving $10m for the production satellites.

Currently, Lockheed GPS III team is developing a full-sized prototype of the GPS III spacecraft, GNST, to identify and solve issues prior to the launch of the first vehicle.

The USAF’s GPS III programme is aimed at replacing ageing GPS satellites and providing improved position, navigation and timing services in addition to advanced anti-jam capabilities yielding superior system security, accuracy and reliability.

The Lockheed-led GPS III team includes ITT Exelis, General Dynamics, Infinity Systems Engineering, Honeywell, ATK and other sub-contractors.

The Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2SOPS), based at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, US manages and operates the GPS constellation.

Image: Lockheed Martin’s Global Positioning System III (GPS III) satellites pathfinder. Photo: courtesy of Lockheed Martin.