Boeing team vies for next-gen GPS satellites

 - March 23, 2007, 12:33 PM

Boeing has formed an international industry team to compete for the contract to build and deploy the next generation of GPS satellites.

The Air Force plans to award the contract in early 2006 for the new GPS III satellites that will replace the ones currently in orbit and those scheduled for launch between now and when the GPS III satellites are ready.

The Boeing GPS III team consists of U.S. companies ITT, Lockheed Martin IS&S, Raytheon Aurora, Raytheon Fullerton, Harris, Sun Microsystems, BAE Systems, General Dynamics, SRI, Trimble, L-3 Communications and Rockwell Collins, as well as international members Alcatel Space of France and Alenia Spazcio of Italy.

In January, the Boeing-led group was one of two competing industry teams awarded $20.8 million contracts to perform a 24-month study of the concept. The first GPS III satellite launches are scheduled for 2012.

At the same time it is vying to build the GPS III satellites, Boeing is under contract to produce at least 12 GPS IIF satellites, which have improved anti-jam capability and increased accuracy from earlier satellite versions. According to Air Force plans, the first GPS IIF launch is scheduled for mid-2006.

Boeing is also making investments in the area of GPS operational control. The company recently opened the Boeing GPS Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., where its engineers will develop and test so-called control segment hardware and software for all versions of GPS satellites. The Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center manages the GPS program through a joint program office in Los Angeles.

The new GPS III satellites will incorporate advanced anti-jam capabilities and have better system security, accuracy and reliability, making them less prone to interference and better able to pinpoint location for military and civil users.

The threat of deliberate GPS signal interference continues to concern government officials. A recent study of GPS vulnerability, prepared by the DOT’s Volpe Technical Center in Cambridge, Mass., examined the full range of GPS vulnerabilities, from natural disturbances caused, for example, by the sun, to intentional signal disruptions, which could potentially cause temporary or possibly longer-term loss of signals.

The report stated that the most critical GPS deficiencies are its extremely low-powered signals and its single civil frequency. These deficiencies, researchers said, would be corrected in GPS III, which will transmit at much higher power (100 times that of current-generation satellites) over two dedicated civil frequencies, thereby virtually eliminating natural interference while at the same time thwarting GPS signal jammers.

However, the report noted that GPS III is not expected to become fully operational until sometime between 2012 and 2015. Until then, GPS remains “extremely vulnerable” to interference, the report stated. The Volpe Center therefore has recommended a comprehensive analysis of GPS backup navigation and precision-timing options, including VOR/DME, ILS, loran-C, inertial navigation systems and improved procedures for aircraft operators.