Countdown to next-gen GPS

Six things to know about the new GPS III satellite

The U.S. Air Force is launching advanced GPS III satellites to provide improved positioning, navigation and timing services for more than four billion users worldwide.

Raytheon Technologies’ GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System maneuvers the satellites into orbit. The launch and checkout system GPS OCX Block 0 is essential in positioning and preparing the satellites for operation.

Here is a countdown of launch facts:

5. A Series of Firsts

The U.S. Air Force plans over the next several years to launch a series of GPS III satellites that will deliver greater accuracy and improved anti-jamming capabilities compared to the previous generation of satellites. Raytheon Technologies will support each launch, often working on multiple GPS III spacecraft operations simultaneously.

“We broke new ground in a number of areas,” said Jayson Cowley, Raytheon Technologies' GPS OCX launch and checkout system senior manager, referring to the December 2018 launch of SV-01. It  featured the first GPS III satellite, the first GPS on a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and the first launch using the Launch and Checkout System.

4. Cyber Hardened and Resilient

The ground system has achieved the highest level of cybersecurity certification of any U.S. Department of Defense space system, implementing 100 percent of the DoD's 8500.2 Defense in Depth information assurance standards, and without waivers. Its open architecture allows it to adopt new capabilities and signals as they become available, ensuring continued protection against new cyberattacks.

“We’re cognizant that the cyber threat will always change, so we’ve built GPS OCX to evolve and to make sure it’s always operating at this level of protection,” said Dave Wajsgras, former president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services, which built GPS OCX prior to the merger that created Raytheon Technologies.

3. Getting It Off the Ground

RGNext, a joint venture between Raytheon Technologies and General Dynamics IT, will provide support to the GPS III rocket launches. RGNext operates the launch range on behalf of the U.S. Air Force, providing maintenance, range safety, weather monitoring, communication and surveillance for all defense, civil and commercial launches at the range.

"RGNext's launch of GPS III is a routine mission for us, but it's very pleasing that (Raytheon Technologies) is such a major player in the payload," said Don McMonagle, an RGNext program manager and former astronaut.

2. Blasting Off With New Capabilities

Once the GPS III constellation becomes fully operational, it will boast a host of new features. A new civilian signal called L1C will increase interoperability with other global GPS systems, and the new GPS III’s M-code signal for military use will provide increased anti-jam capability and better penetration into hard-to-reach locations. And with three times greater accuracy, both civilians and the military will benefit.

“Everyone uses GPS. It’s in phones, cars, watches – it’s everywhere,” said Bill Sullivan, a vice president for Raytheon Intelligence & Space, a Raytheon Technologies business. “GPS is fundamental to what we do, and the modernization effort is critical to the nation, whether that be for civilian users or the military.”

1. From Earth Into Orbit

A rocket delivers the satellite to a low-earth orbit, approximately 750 miles into space; the spacecraft then spends seven to 10 days executing six to eight precise burns to reach its operational orbit at about 12,500 miles into space.

The company's GPS OCX launch and checkout system "commands the satellite to execute key maneuvers, including controlling the burns to get the satellite into desired orbit,” said Bishi Das, Raytheon Technologies GPS OCX segment evolution and modernization director. “The GPS III is a big spacecraft and the operational station is pretty far up there – a medium-Earth orbit.”

0. Six Months of “Checking It Out”

Once the satellites are in orbit, operators on workstations in Waterton, Colorado, work with Raytheon Technologies’ GPS OCX Launch and Checkout System equipment at Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron, based at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado. The squadron manages and operates the GPS constellation for civil and military users.

“The Air Force spends six months testing each satellite’s health and calibrating its subsystems with [our] Launch and Checkout System before it becomes fully operational and joins the constellation of GPS satellites,” Das said. “Subsequent satellites will go through an accelerated checkout to speed its entry into service. Our system connects the Air Force’s brainpower to the GPS III satellites so they can test it, do day-to-day housekeeping and control it.”