Lockheed Martin to upgrade GPS satellites for in-orbit servicing

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Eric Brown said on-orbit logistics and servicing technologies are driving the industry to think of new ways of designing satellites. 

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin is redesigning the bus used for Global Positioning System satellites so they can be upgraded with new hardware on orbit, a company executive said Feb. 25.

Eric Brown, senior director of military space mission strategy at Lockheed Martin, said this is significant because the thinking today is that “once something was on orbit you were done with it.” He said that thinking will change as capabilities for in-space servicing and logistics become available in the years ahead.

The redesigned LM2100 commercial bus will be used in the future version of GPS 3 satellites known as GPS 3F. Lockheed Martin expects the third satellite of the GPS 3F line will have the upgraded bus, Brown said during a panel discussion at the Air Force Association’s aerospace warfare virtual symposium. 

The panel was moderated by Brig. Gen. Steve Whitney, director of space programs for the Department of the Air Force. Whitney, who previously ran the GPS program at the Space and Missile Systems Center, noted that on-orbit servicing is an emerging technology in the space industry and DoD satellites should take advantage of it. 

Brown said innovations in on-orbit logistics and servicing are driving the industry to think of new ways of designing satellites. 

“We are going to have the capability to enable on-orbit docking, which will allow us to do on-orbit upgrades for bringing in a new processor, bringing in new sensor technologies, things like that, that permit us to increase the relevance and the mission capability of a space platform,” he said.

The LM2100 is a large platform used for satellites in the range of 2,300 to 6,500 kilograms. 

Brown said Lockheed Martin has been working on this upgrade for some time. One of the motivators was concerns that satellite upgrades on orbit have been viewed as “a really risky proposition” and that there are now technologies to make that possible with less risk. 

Joseph Cassady, executive director for space at Aerojet Rocketdyne, also was on the panel and mentioned the company’s’ interest in in-space logistics.

Brown said Lockheed Martin plans to work with Aerojet Rocketdyne in this area. “When we talk about the maturity of things like rendezvous and proximity operations, we’ve got a lot of capability around as an industry, and certainly Aerojet Rocketdyne is a tremendous company looking at things like that as well,” said Brown.

Lockheed Martin in December announced it intends to acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne. 

“Given the announcements we’ve had in the past couple of months, Lockheed Martin looks to partner with Aerojet Rocketdyne on out into the future, as part of the family,” Brown said.