Lockheed Martin’s full-sized, functional GPS 3 satellite prototype. Credit: Lockheed Martin

MAUI, Hawaii — The U.S. Air Force exercised a $395 million contract option for Lockheed Martin to build the ninth and tenth satellites in the next-generation of position, navigation and timing satellites, the Defense Department announced Sept. 21.

Under a roughly $3.6 billion contract awarded in 2008, Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver is the prime contractor on the GPS 3 program and was under contract to build eight next-generation satellites.

The contract included options for up to four more satellites, but for more than 18 months, the Air Force had said that while it expected to execute options for the first two of those satellites, it also planned to open up a competition for the next batch of satellites.

The news comes less than a week after Lockheed Martin acknowledged it would not deliver the first GPS 3 satellite until December. That satellite is about 32 months late, officials said, owing largely to problems with the advanced navigation payload developed by Exelis Geospatial Systems, which is now owned by Harris Corp.

The first GPS 3 satellite is not expected to launch until next year at the earliest.

“Having satellites done, and ready to launch is the best way to convince people that we’re up and running,” Rick Ambrose, the executive vice president of Lockheed Martin Space Systems said in March.

The ninth and 10th satellites are expected to be available for launch in 2022, the Pentagon said. The new satellites also will include additional hosted payloads to increase accuracy, the Air Force said in a press release.

Earlier this year, the Air Force kicked off  a competition for industry to build the next batch of satellites beginning with the 11th space vehicle. Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman are expected to vie for production contracts for as many as 22 satellites. However, industry officials believe it is more likely the Air Force will put a group of eight to 12 satellites up for bid first.

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.