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Air Force Continues to Test GPS III Satellite

GPS-III-SV01-EMIEMCPIM-SSS201603045-SPR-ID-16-095_1.jpgGPS III satellites in production. Image Source: Lockheed Martin. (Click image to enlarge.)
December 27, 2016

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The U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) says it continues to work on GPS III ceramic capacitor testing and plans to have an updated launch schedule published late next month.

As Inside GNSS reported, the first GPS III satellite's delivery, originally scheduled for August, was delayed by four months because of a Lockheed Martin subcontractor's failure to test a ceramic capacitor.

"GPS III-01 remains on track for a spring 2018 launch. The GPS III program office continues to resolve final issues and plans to close on an available-to-launch date around 31 January 2017," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, SMC commander and Air Force program executive officer for space.

During Lockheed Martin's navigation payload testing, they discovered a ceramic capacitor that had not been properly qualified per the program's approved parts control plan, the company said. "Upon discovering the issue, we took immediate corrective action with the payload provider to qualify the capacitor. The capacitor qualification test forecast completion is [in] December," said Chip Eschenfelder, a Lockheed Martin spokesman, in response to an Inside GNSS query in September.

Harris Corporation, which provides the ceramic capacitor part, said it is working with Lockheed Martin and the Air Force to remedy the situation. Ellen Mitchell, a spokeswoman for Harris, said that the capacitor was among more than 28,000 parts used in the payload. "It is part of a legacy Exelis program that Harris acquired last year," she told Inside GNSS.

Colonel Steve Whitney, U.S. Air Force GPS program manager, told Bloomberg that the ceramic capacitor testing should have been completed five years ago.

GPS III is the next generation of GPS satellites, which will introduce new capabilities to meet the higher demands of both military and civilian users, the Air Force said. The satellite is expected to provide improved anti-jamming capabilities as well as improved accuracy for precision navigation and timing.

GPS III will incorporate the common L1C signal, which is compatible with the European Space Agency's Galileo global navigation satellite system and complements current services with the addition of new civil and military signals.

In April, the Air Force awarded an $82.7-million contract to Space Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) for GPS III Launch Services. The Air Force characterized the launch contract as "the first competitively sourced National Security Space (NSS) launch services contract in more than a decade."

As Inside GNSS reported, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2017, a $619-billion bill with a number of provisions affecting satellite navigation. The NDAA authorizes all of the spending the White House requested for the various elements in the GPS program, including $141.89 million for GPS III satellite development and $34.06 million for GPS III procurement.

The actual funding for FY17 in the form of an appropriations bill has yet to be approved, however — although that is not a bad thing for the GPS program. Congress passed a continuing resolution, signed into law December 10, which allocates money at FY16 levels through April 28, 2017.

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