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US may slow GPS 3 production pace

US: The primary payload for the US Air Force’s next-generation GPS 3 navigation satellites was recently cleared for production even as the service contemplates slowing down the programme based on the health of the current GPS constellation.

GPS 3 satellites are designed to produce more accurate signals with the help of improved on-board atomic clocks. The spacecraft will also feature a more powerful M-code signal for military users and compatibility with the European Galileo navigation satellites, scheduled to begin launching as early as 2012.

Current plans call for GPS 3 prime contractor Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Denver to deliver four satellites per year, with the first slated to launch in 2014, but the Air Force is currently re-evaluating the production rate, said Dave Podlesney, Lockheed Martin’s GPS 3 Programme Director. The health of the existing constellation and launch rate of the current-generation GPS 2F craft — to date just one of 12 of the Boeing-built satellites has been launched — are factors, he said.

The US Department of Defence, in a 2010 budget reprogramming package submitted to Congress, is seeking permission to redirect USD 2.7 million that had been appropriated for GPS 3 parts procurement to other activities. It is not clear whether the request has any connection to a possible slowdown of the programme. The Air Force currently plans to fully fund three GPS 3 satellites in 2012, two satellites in 2013, five satellites in 2014 and two satellites in 2015, according to Air Force spokeswoman Maj. Angie Blair. She declined to say if any possible changes to this schedule are being considered.

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, is slightly ahead of schedule on the multibillion-dollar programme, having completed 62 of 65 programme reviews in preparation for hardware manufacturing, Podlesney said. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center and GPS 3 contractor team will conduct a critical design review in August, which would clear the way for production to begin, he said.

One critical GPS 3 component, the primary navigation payload being supplied by ITT Geospatial Systems of Rochester, New York, already has cleared critical design review and production of a prototype has started, Podlesney said. ITT has the supplied payloads for all previous generations of GPS craft.

The initial payload is slated for delivery by the end of 2011 for integration with the GPS Non-flight Satellite Trailblazer, a prototype that will closely resemble the flight-model spacecraft, Podlesney said. The construction of the Trailblazer is one example of the new and more cautious approach being taken on GPS 3 to avoid the cost and schedule problems that have plagued military satellite procurements in recent years.

Lockheed Martin was put under contract in May 2008 to deliver the first two of as many as 12 satellites under the initial GPS 3 block, known as Block 3A. The next two blocks, GPS 3B and GPS 3C, are planned to feature improvements such as better anti-jamming capabilities.

Source: Space News