Delayed GPS Satellite Program Back on Track; Air Force Wants Competition


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- After a two-year delay caused by a nonfunctional navigation payload, the Air Force's next-generation GPS program is back on track, senior officials said. But the service is looking for more competition for future block buys.

Lockheed Martin is on contract to build the first eight GPS-3 satellites and has an option on four more. They will begin launching in 2017. Subcontractor Exelis Geospatial Systems had problems developing the navigation subsystem, which pushed the program back by two years.

"I was pretty upset with Exelis at the time," Gen. John Hyten, Air Force Space Command commander, told reporters April 15 on the sidelines of the Space Symposium. "We had this beautiful GPS-3 production line built south of Denver. And we had satellites built up just waiting for a [navigation] payload," Hyten said.

The good news is that the payloads are integrated and work, and everything is progressing well, he said.

 However, as frustration mounted over the delays, the Air Force announced in June 2014 that it would open up a competition for future block buys. It previously said it would award $100 million to $200

million worth of contracts to new entrants to develop alternatives, according to Space News.

Lt. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, assistant secretary of the Air Force for acquisition, told Space News April 14 that that number would be curtailed to $6 million for each potential new entrant. Industry would

be expected to absorb more of the upfront research and development costs, with the winner of a large block buy recovering the investment later.

The R&D phase is expected to last 38 months with a contract for 22 satellites expected in 2018, she said.

Hyten said he would like to see the next GPS block be brought into the digital age. "In the long term, we are going to move off the traditional analog payload and move into a digital payload, which is why we are interested in competition in the future," he said.  

The question is the timing of when the Air Force will make the switch, he said. "Particularly now that the GPS program is moving again. Unfortunately, we are two years behind."

Topics: Space

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