WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin has given L3Harris the green light to continue the development of a fully digital navigation payload for the next generation of GPS satellites known as GPS 3 Follow-on, or GPS 3F.

The digital payload cleared what the military calls a “critical design review” that required demonstrating the new payload design is mature enough to proceed to final development test and delivery. The central component of the navigation payload is the mission data unit, which is expected to provide more powerful signals and ensure accurate atomic clock operations.

Lockheed Martin manufactures the satellites for the U.S. military. The company is making 10 GPS 3 satellites use L3Harris’ 70-percent digital mission data unit. The 100-percent digital payload will be introduced in the 11th satellite of the GPS 3 constellation which will the Follow-on variant.

Dave Hatch, Lockheed Martin’s program manager for GPS 3F, said in a statement to SpaceNews Feb. 11 that the critical design review for the overall GPS 3F space vehicle should be completed in the next few weeks.

In addition to the fully digital navigation payload, the GPS 3F will have a regional military protection capability, an accuracy enhancing laser retroreflector array, and a search-and-rescue payload, Hatch said.

In September 2018, the U.S. Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a contract worth $7.2 billion to build up to 22 GPS 3F satellites,

L3Harris in April received a $243 million contract from Lockheed Martin for two fully digital navigation signals for the 11th and 12th vehicles of the GPS 3 constellation. The company has provided navigation technology for every U.S. GPS satellite,

The U.S. Space Force said the first GPS 3F could be available for launch as early as 2026.

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...