Northrop Grumman and Boeing have responded to a U.S. Air Force call for contractors interested in building a follow-on set of GPS III satellites, according to a report in Space News.
Lockheed Martin is under contract to deliver the first eight GPS III satellites, but the award for up to 22 further IIIs remains open. Difficulties with the payload for the first batch of satellites mean that although the Lockheed has three space vehicles ready, it has no signal payload to put aboard them. Subcontractor Exelis is at work on that. Delivery delays have prompted the Air Force to look about for alternatives.
Lockheed Martin itself began investigating options for its supply line last year.
Air Force “Sources Sought” Call
The U.S. Air Force issued an official “Sources sought” notice in June on a production-ready GPS space vehicle, equipped with an alternate payload, for consideration alongside the Lockheed Martin-built GPS III vehicle. The first phase of the contract would include two firm-fixed price contracts worth $100–$200 million to demonstrate a competitor to GPS III.
Key requirements are that the satellite must offer a payload alternative to that built by Exelis; the satellite must be ready to launch by 2023; and the production line must turn out two to three new satellites per year.
The second phase features a competition between Lockheed Martin and one or more other companies for as many as 22 satellites. A final contract award would be made in 2017 or 2018.
Current GPS III contractor Lockheed Martin reportedly sent an engineering team to help Exelis expedite a resolution of payload holdups, while simultaneously investigating a switch to other suppliers, beginning with the ninth satellite in the GPS 3 series. Lockheed Martin says five companies responded to its solicitation last year.
Air Force Gives Free Hand. Gen. Ellen Pawlikowski, head of the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), told the national Space Symposium in Colorado in June, “Obviously we want a GPS III that does what its supposed to do, delivered on time, and it’s up to Lockheed to manage its subcontractors. My view is if Lockheed is not happy with their subcontractors nav payload, and they believe that they can get a lower risk approach to delivering a nav payload by seeking a secondary source for that, then that’s clearly a decision for them to make.
“They [Lockheed ] know we are disappointed at the delays that we have seen, the technical issues that their subcontractor has had, and probably they are considering whether an alternative source could provide them a better opportunity.“
Lockheed Martin spokesman Chip Eschenfelder issued a statement: “Exelis has made good progress on the first GPS III space vehicle, SV01 navigation payload. All GPS III SV01 navigation payload components have successfully completed unit acceptance and environmental testing, with the exception of one component, the mission data unit.
“To date, significant MDU hardware testing indicates signal cross talk issues are resolved. The SV01 navigation payload forecast delivery to Lockheed Martin is fall 2014.”
Boeing built the platform and major payload components for the GPS IIF satellites and is one of three companies that received contracts in January 2013 to study how to improve the accuracy, coverage, and efficiency of GPS using smaller satellites.
Northrop Grumman Aerospace of Redondo Beach, California, has already delivered deployable antenna sets to Lockheed Martin for the first six GPS III satellites. The division has delivered more than 1,000 antennas for previous generations of GPS spacecraft, Northrop Grumman said.