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Lockheed's Fourth GPS III Satellite Flies Under Own Power

Dec. 1, 2020
The latest GPS III bird, the 23rd overall with M-Code capabilities, is another chapter in the U.S. Space Force's efforts to modernize the GPS constellation.

The constellation of third-generation Global Positioning System (GPS III) satellites has grown following the launch of the fourth GPS III satellite (SV04) by builder Lockheed Martin. Following separation from its rocket launcher after liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the satellite climbed to its operational orbit, about 12,550 miles above the Earth, under its own power. Working with the U.S. Space Force, engineers at Lockheed Martin’s Launch & Checkout Operations Center (Denver, CO) reported that the satellite had separated from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket used to launch it and was propelled by an onboard liquid apogee engine. Once in orbit, the satellite will deploy solar arrays and antennas with control handed over from Lockheed Martin to Space Operations Command.

The GPS III SV04 satellite (see figure) is part of U.S. Space Force’s efforts to modernize the GPS satellite constellation. As part of that modernization, the GPS III SV04 will be the 23rd GPS satellite in orbit with military-code (M-Code) signal capability. It offers enhanced performance compared to earlier GPS satellites, providing greater accuracy and anti-jamming capability along with a new L1C civil signal compatible with international global navigation satellite systems such as Galileo over Europe for improved worldwide civilian coverage.

“With GPS III we are focused on rapidly fielding the best capabilities to the Space Force's Positioning, Navigation and Timing (PNT) Mission,” said Tonya Ladwig, Lockheed Martin's acting vice-president for Navigation Systems. She noted: “We are proud of our industry-government team on the launch of GPS III SV04. GPS III SV05 is already 'available for launch' and just waiting to be called up.” Ladwig added: “So many people rely on GPS every day. Continuing to invest in GPS by adding new capabilities like those coming with GPS III/IIIF will ensure GPS remains the world's 'gold standard' for PNT and just makes sense.” 

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