The U.S. Air Force has made its Global Positioning System (GPS) accessible to the globe since 1993 and has since discovered its way into many facets of our daily life. It’s in our vehicles, our phones, and our watches as well. So it’s no surprise that the U.S. continues to invest in technology growth for both civilian and military use — and that investment is starting to pay off. Here’s what you can expect in 2023 when the next generation of GPS will be fully functional.
More bang for the buck
Lockheed Martin’s first GPS III satellite cost an estimated $529 million to build. And with nine more satellites scheduled, when everything is said and done, the GPS III project will grow to a whopping $5.5 billion. Some of this upfront price will be offset by the exceptional longevity of the satellite. Unlike the early GPS satellites that have a 7.5-year design life, the new GPS III satellites will last 15 years — twice as long as the earliest orbiting satellites and 25 percent longer than the latest GPS fleet satellites. The GPS II satellites will not only last longer, but they will also not become outdated as rapidly as possible. The new satellite system GPS III has been intended to adapt as new technology develops and mission goals alter.
Three times more accurate
The current system of GPS II is precise, but GPS III will bring stuff to a whole new level. It is expected that the next generation of GPS will be 3 times more precise than current GPS. This implies that the precision of 5 to 10 meters that you now see with current GPS technology will be reduced to 1 to 3 meters. The signal will also be stronger, enabling it to overcome irritating interference that is degrading the signal.
What this means to you is that your smartphone or other navigation device can be even more accurate and reliable than before to identify your place. No longer follow the incorrect path because you’re on a neighboring road with your GPS.
Improved Navigation for everyone
GPS III will not only increase precision, it will also expand the technology to more individuals. The key to this development is the new civilian L1C signal, inter-operable with other worldwide satellite navigation (GNSS) technologies. The L1C signal shares the same center frequency as the Galileo network in Europe, the QZSS from Japan and the Beidou from China. Signal design teams from Japan and Europe were actually working with the US to ensure compatibility. In the future, GPS receivers will be able to simultaneously obtain location information from various worldwide satellite navigation systems and use that information to provide precise drop-dead tracking.
Flexing our military might
With all these civilian enhancements, it’s simple to forget that GPS is a military technology first and foremost. On the floor, together with the new GPS III satellites, the government is setting up new command centres capable of managing the current GPS satellite fleet. Raytheon is building and programming this Next Generation GPS Operational Control System (OCX) and has been postponed until 2022 or 2023. Meanwhile, Lockheed is upgrading current control centers with the required programming to interact with the GPS III satellite fleet. Lockheed can continue to launch and test satellites while waiting for completion of OCX.
In the sky, GPS III will convey more strong encrypted M-Code signals than current military signals. For military activities, these signals will not only be more reliable, but they will also be eight times more resistant to jamming. GPS III’s military side won’t go live until the OCX system is working.
Delays, then unremitting progress
The GPS III system is finally making progress after years of delay. In December 2018, the first GPS III satellite, dubbed “Vespucci,” was launched, and in August 2019, the second “Magellan” took off. Next in line is the third GPS III satellite to be launched on top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in January 2020. Lockheed is not standing idle while testing the two orbiting satellites for the third satellite to launch, the firm is continuing to build the remaining assembly-line satellites. It intends to continue spitting out satellites at a constant rate until all ten birds, hopefully by 2023, are in the air and operational.
What will happen in the future?
Lockheed will operate on 22 GPS III Follow-On (GPS IIIF) satellites following GPS III. These satellites are expected to start in 2026 with a full digital navigation payload search and rescue payload. They will also have a second antenna to provide regional military assistance. Each satellite can transmit from its two antennas two distinct signals. One is a complete earth signal that is already being transmitted by current GPS IIR-M satellites, and the second is a new regional specific signal from a directional antenna. In moments of war, it is possible to turn off the Earth’s broad beam and use the regional beam to provide navigation.