Military Space Quarterly | U.S. Air Force Successfully Launches Eighth GPS 2F Navigation Satellite

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force successfully launched another Boeing-built positioning, navigation and timing satellite Oct. 29, just days after saying the first of its next-generation GPS satellites, developed by Lockheed Martin, is now expected to launch in December 2016.

Col. Bill Cooley, director of the GPS directorate at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems in Los Angeles, told reporters in an Oct. 24 conference call that the service has been “spending a lot of time and attention” on its next-generation GPS 3 program, including the space and ground segment. 

Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services of Dulles, Virginia, is developing the GPS 3 ground system, known as the Operational Control Segment (OCX), while Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver is prime contractor on the satellites. Both are behind schedule — the satellites originally were supposed to start launching in 2014 — and while Cooley said there is “some cause for optimism,” he is nonetheless waiting for the contractors to “show” that they are making the necessary progress.

“We’d like to get the first GPS 3 on orbit as soon as possible,” Cooley said. 

Meanwhile, the Air Force on Oct. 29 successfully launched the eighth of the current-generation GPS satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket.

The GPS 2F satellites, built by Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of El Segundo, California, provide better accuracy and resistance to jamming than the previous generation of GPS satellites, most of which are still in operation. 

In a press release issued Oct. 29, Boeing said the first signals from the on-orbit satellite were acquired about three-and-a-half hours after its 1:21 p.m. EDT liftoff. The satellite is expected to complete in-orbit testing and begin operational service in December, Boeing said.

GPS 2F-8 will replace an older satellite, launched in 2000, that will be placed into a reserve mode, Cooley said. The current GPS constellation consists of 38 satellites, 31 of which are in active mode.

The launch was the fourth and last of a GPS 2F satellite this year, a pace Cooley described as “the most aggressive launch campaign schedule” for the GPS program since 1993.

“The schedule this year has put the GPS team through its paces, with launches occurring approximately every three months to continue GPS modernization,” Dan Hart, vice president of government space systems at Boeing, said in a prepared statement. “We typically were processing two satellites concurrently at the Cape, requiring strong execution, an unrelenting focus on mission assurance and solid team work with the Air Force and United Launch Alliance.”

The next satellite in the series is not expected to launch until March 2015, Cooley said. The 10th is tentatively manifested for June 2015, with the 11th and the 12th — the latter being final satellite in the series — to follow in September 2015 and January 2016, respectively.

The launch was the 50th mission for the Atlas 5 rocket and came a day after an Antares rocket built by Orbital Sciences Corp. exploded shortly after liftoff from Wallops Island, Virginia. Following the failure, the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing at Cape Canaveral conducted an evaluation and found that “common components do not introduce any additional risk to the success” of the GPS launch, according to an Oct. 29 press release from the service.

 

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