WASHINGTON – The ground system for the U.S. Air Force’s next-generation position, navigation and timing satellites has passed a key test that GPS-3 contractors say proves the system can perform one of its top objectives: completing a series of automated tasks.

The Operational Control System, or OCX, built by Raytheon Intelligence Information and Services of Dulles, Virginia, is aimed at controlling the Air Force’s still-in-development GPS 3 satellites and provide better cyberprotection and information assurance than the current GPS ground system.

The OCX system is being designed to automate various functions, which is especially important to the Air Force as it considers scaling back its corps of satellite operators.

In a Dec. 17 press release from Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the GPS 3 satellites, the companies said they had completed the fourth of five planned exercises in early October. The test, which focused on transferring data between the ground system and a satellite simulator, included examining the system’s mission planning and scheduling capabilities. The exercise also included a replanning activity triggered by a launch slip as well as automatically generating antenna pointing angles.

“Launch Exercise 4 demonstrated the team’s ability to complete nearly 100 percent of the GPS III space vehicle 1 launch and early orbit mission sequence,” Mark Stewart, vice president for Lockheed Martin’s Navigation Systems mission area, said in the release. “The findings the team made during this robust launch exercise will help mature the processes, procedures, and tools necessary to enter our rehearsal phase and ultimately the launch and checkout mission.”

A fifth and final test is planned for 2015, the release said.

The projected price tag for the ground system, known as the Operational Control System, or OCX, has nearly doubled to $1.6 billion from about $886 million since Raytheon was awarded the contract in 2010.

Earlier this month, Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, recently asked the Air Force to prepare an Acquisition Decision Memorandum, or ADM, explaining the changes to Raytheon’s contract.

Raytheon was awarded an $886 million contract in 2010 to design the ground system.

Raytheon executives told SpaceNews in August that the contract had been restructured with some elements of the program postponed nearly two years.

Mike Gruss covers military space issues, including the U.S. Air Force and Missile Defense Agency, for SpaceNews. He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.