NTS-3 concept. Credit: L3Harris

WASHINGTON — An experimental navigation satellite being developed by L3Harris for the U.S. Air Force has passed a preliminary design review, clearing the way for the program to move forward, the company announced Feb. 5.

The Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) is an experiment to show that a layer of smaller satellites in geosynchronous Earth orbit could be deployed to supplement the medium Earth orbiting GPS constellation and improve the resiliency of the military’s positioning, navigation and timing capabilities. The Air Force Research Laboratory plans to launch NTS-3 in 2022.

NTS-3 also will be used to develop technologies such as experimental antennas, flexible and secure signals, automation and use of commercial command and control systems. If successful, these technologies would transition to the GPS 3F satellites made by Lockheed Martin, the Air Force said. In September 2018, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a contract for up to 22 GPS 3F satellites. L3Harris in January 2019 received a $243 million award to provide the navigation signals for the first two GPS 3F spacecraft.

The Air Force in November named NTS-3 one of its “vanguard” programs for its innovative ideas about how to develop next-generation space systems.

“The NTS-3 vanguard is an experimental, end-to-end demonstration of agile, resilient space-based positioning, navigation, and timing,” said Arlen Biersgreen, Air Force NTS-3 program manager. “It has the potential for game-changing advancements to the way the Air Force provides these critical capabilities to warfighters across the Department of Defense.”

“Passing the preliminary design review defines the spacecraft’s path to delivery and allows the program to move to the next phase of development,” L3Harris said in a news release.

The Space and Missile Systems Center’s Space Enterprise Consortium selected L3Harris for the $84-million contract in 2018 as the prime system integrator to design, develop, integrate and test NTS-3, including ground mission applications.

L3Harris Space and Airborne Systems, based in Melbourne, Florida, will build NTS-3 using a Northrop Grumman ESPAStar bus. The 2018 contract includes options for the Air Force to buy up to nine satellites.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...