The GPS III Contingency Operations Program (COps) successfully connected with the first GPS III satellite on orbit on October 21. The Air Force can now operationally command and control the powerful new GPS III satellites as well as legacy GPS satellites currently in the constellation.
COps is a software upgrade to the U.S. Air Force’s current GPS ground control system, known as the GPS Architecture Evolution Plan Operational Control System (AEP OCS). It enables the Air Force to command the new GPS III satellites now beginning to enter the constellation. Two have launched, and a third has been declared “available for launch.” COps modernizes the ground control system so that it can fly the legacy constellation as well as the new satellites. It will operate until the next-generation Operational Control System (OCX) Block 1, still in development, comes online.
The first GPS III satellite rose on Dec. 23, 2018. Lockheed Martin delivered the COps system to the Air Force in May of this year. After final system test, the Air Force approved installation of COps to command and control legacy operations at the Master Control Station, Schriever Air Force Base and at the Alternate Master Control Station, Vandenberg Air Force Base .
In October, the COps program began a trial period. The trial includes testing COps command and control with the live, on-orbit GPS III satellite, to verify requirements and functionality of the satellite. Testing aims to confirm readiness for operational acceptance targeted for December 2019 and April 2020 for the GPS III satellite and COps respectively.
In 2020, the AEP OCS expects to receive the M-Code Early Use (MCEU) upgrade. This will enable control of M-Code, an advanced signal designed to improve anti-jamming and anti-spoofing, and increase secure access to military GPS signals for U.S. and allied armed forces.
The GPS III COps program is managed by the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, Production Corps. This 800-plus person team manages 26 programs across the Air Force’s space portfolio.
Artist’s rendering: GPS IIIF satellite in orbit. Courtesy Lockheed Martin.