In landing one of the biggest prizes in U.S. military space contracting in recent years, a multibillion-dollar deal to build a new generation of GPS navigation satellites for the U.S. Air Force, Lockheed Martin solidified its pre-eminence in the business at the expense of losing bidder and perennial rival Boeing, analysts said.


The contract caps
an impressive rebound for Lockheed Martin’s space business, which was floundering at the beginning of the decade.

“Over the last three years, Lockheed Martin has recovered lost ground and claimed a number of important new franchises,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of
the Lexington Institute, a think tank in Arlington, Va.
“They have taken control of the most important part of the Future Imagery Architecture, and will probably win all three blocks of the GPS 3 constellation.”


The Future Imagery Architecture is a new generation of spy satellites that Boeing originally was selected to build. But the company struggled, leading the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office to cancel the optical portion of that contract and award related satellite work to Lockheed Martin.


Brett Lambert, a consultant with the
Densmore Group here, said the win was bigger for Lockheed than just the contract itself, and
could precipitate major changes at Boeing.


“It demonstrates again that [Lockheed Martin]
is back. They suffered through some tough times and losses, and this just demonstrates their commitment to the military space industry.

“I think this will cause some people at Boeing to step back and rethink their future in space. There have not been a lot of success stories there in a while. It was a must win for Boeing.”


The GPS 3 program ultimately could include 32 satellites purchased in three batches, or blocks.


Lockheed Martin’s
initial $1.5 billion contract calls for the construction of two GPS Block 3A research and development satellites to be launched in 2014, Col. Dave Madden, commander of the Air Force’s GPS Systems Wing, told reporters during a May 15 conference call. The Block 3A contract includes five options, each for two additional satellites, and has
a maximum value of $3.58 billion, he said.


Gary Payton, the Air Force’s deputy undersecretary for space programs, said the service plans to buy no more than eight GPS 3A satellites before moving on to the more capable GPS Block 3B satellites. The last two options in the initial contract were included as a hedge against delays to the GPS 3B satellites, the award for which is scheduled for three years from now, he said.


Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver
Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems of Seal Beach, Calif.,
have been developing competing
GPS 3 designs under Air Force study contracts since 2004. The prime contract represents one of the last major awards
in the Air Force’s long-running effort
to recapitalize its military satellite fleet, which includes systems whose design dates back to the 1970s.


Both companies
still are
competing to build the Air Force’s next-generation Transformational Satellite (T-Sat) communications system, but that program’s future is uncertain. The contract originally was to have been awarded by now, but has been delayed indefinitely as the service examines options for meeting the military’s future communications needs.


Keeping with the Air Force’s block approach to acquiring space assets, the initial GPS 3 contract covers the first of three planned blocks of increasingly capable
satellites. The
GPS 3A satellites, based on Lockheed Martin’s A2100 platform, will feature more
signal power and
better anti-jamming capabilities and signal accuracy than previous GPS navigation craft. The GPS 3 system also features
compatibility with Europe’s planned
Galileo satellite navigation system
, the Air Force says.


Both Lockheed Martin and Boeing have built earlier generations of GPS craft. Boeing is prime contractor on the GPS 2F system, the immediate predecessor to GPS 3. Boeing has experienced problems on that contract, which covers 12 satellites to be launched starting in 2009.

Lockheed Martin’s industrial partners on GPS 3 include ITT Corp. of White Plains, N.Y., which will provide the navigation payloads; and General Dynamics of Falls Church, Va., which will provide the communications, telemetry and command subsystems. The spacecraft development effort will take place at Lockheed Martin’s Newtown, Pa., facilities, and final assembly and integration will take place in Denver.


The majority of the 500 Lockheed Martin employees who will work on the project will come from the company’s current GPS 2 work force, spokesman Steve Tatum said.


“Lockheed Martin is proud to serve as the U.S. Air Force’s partner on this critical national program,” said Joanne Maguire, executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems, said in a written statement. “Our low-risk, back-to-basics solution is based on the team’s outstanding record of success in developing and evolving navigation satellites and we look forward to building a next-generation system that will deliver enhanced performance for military and civilian users around the globe.”


“Boeing is disappointed by this loss, for we assembled a great team that submitted a solid proposal for the GPS III program,” said Boeing spokesman Lewis Brinson in a written statement. “We look forward receiving the debrief from the United States Air Force.”


Comments: tbrinton@space.com