Lockheed Martin and Raytheon have successfully concluded the first launch readiness exercise for the US Air Force’s (USAF) next generation GPS III satellites, advancing further towards achieving launch availability in 2014.

Conducted by mission operations personnel, the three-day launch readiness exercise included evaluation of basic satellite command and control functions and software and hardware interfaces, as well as a demonstration of basic on-console procedures needed for space vehicle contacts during the launch and early orbit mission.

The milestone paves the way for the first GPS III satellite’s mission readiness timeline, comprising five short-duration exercises and six, five-day mission rehearsals prior to launch.

Bernie Gruber, US Air Force’s Global Positioning Systems Directorate director colonel, said: "Completion of our first GPS III launch readiness exercise is a major milestone for the entire GPS enterprise and is a solid indictor that our space and ground segments are well synchronised."

Ray Kolibaba, Raytheon Intelligence and Information Systems business vice president and GPS OCX programme manager, said: "This is another demonstration of the rapid progress we’re making on OCX development, while maintaining GPS space-ground enterprise alignment."

The Lockheed-built GPS III satellites and Raytheon’s advanced GPS operational control system (OCX) represent critical elements of the USAF’s effort aimed at replacing ageing GPS satellites, while simultaneously enhancing capabilities to address the evolving demands of military, commercial and civilian operators across the globe.

Lockheed and Raytheon also received contracts in January 2012 for the delivery of a launch and checkout capability (LCC) for launch and early on-orbit testing of all GPS III satellites.

The Raytheon-built launch and checkout system will serve as the back bone of LCC and is designed to offer satellite command and control capability, an essential part of OCX’s support for the launch of first GPS III satellite.