Lockheed Martin expects to finish first GPS 3 satellite by August

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NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The long-delayed first satellite in the U.S. Air Force’s next generation of positioning, navigation and timing satellites could be available for launch as early as August, a top Lockheed Martin executive said March 8.

In an interview with SpaceNews during the Satellite 2016 conference here, Rick Ambrose, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver, said the company expects to complete work on the first GPS 3 satellite by August, even though the Air Force has said the satellite would launch no earlier than 2017. Some industry officials expect that a 2018 launch is more likely especially as the Pentagon absorbs delays with the next-generation ground system known as the Operational Control Segment.

Artist's concept of Lockheed Martin's GPS 3 satellite. Credit: U.S. Air Force
Artist’s concept of Lockheed Martin’s GPS 3 satellite. Credit: U.S. Air Force

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime contractor on the GPS 3 program and is under contract to build eight next-generation satellites. The contract includes options for up to four more satellites, and the Air Force has told Congress it expects to execute options for at least two of those satellites.

“Having satellites done, and ready to launch is the best way to convince people that we’re up and running,” Ambrose said.

In January, the first GPS 3 satellite completed its thermal vacuum test and is now undergoing electro-magnetic interference testing, Ambrose said. In an April 2015 report, the Government Accountability Office cited a 28-month delay in the launch of the first satellite due largely to trouble developing the navigation payload built by Exelis.

At the same time, the Air Force is in the early stages of a competition for the next batch of satellites beginning with the 11th space vehicle. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are expected to vie for contracts and include digital navigation payloads as part of their bids.