Conversation with Ray Kolibaba on the GPS Ground Control Segment

November 20, 2012  - By

Ray Kolibaba, Raytheon VP and Program Manager for OCX, took part in a candid conversation with Don Jewell, our defense editor at GPS World. Kolibaba gives us an unprecedented look at the GPS ground control segment, warts and all, as it exists today. His updates about a viable program are good news because at one time the OCX program was close to being terminated. Join us now for a look at OCX today and the way ahead for the GPS ground control segment.

By Don Jewell

Ray Kolibaba, Raytheon vice president and program manager for OCX.

DJ: Ray, thanks for taking time to be with us today. Perhaps we should start off with your title, your bona fides if you will, and just what you do at Raytheon in Aurora, Colorado.

RK: Don, I am a vice president at Raytheon here in Aurora and the GPS OCX program manager.

DJ: Concentrating on the OCX program, how many people do you oversee and how many people do you have on your team including sub-contractors? In other words, just how big an effort is OCX when it comes to manpower?

RK: We currently have 450 people at Raytheon working OCX, and with our subs, an additional 300 personnel. Altogether we have 750 personnel working GPS and OCX issues. This does not include the military and civilian personnel at AFSPC and SMC. [ed. Air Force Space Command and Space and Missile Systems Center].

DJ: It sounds like a thousand people when you account for all the different players. An important part of the Raytheon team has to be your subcontractors. Let’s talk about your subs and the roles they play, just so our readers have an idea of the expertise required for OCX to succeed.

RK: Don, our subs are a critical part of our team and we could not succeed without them. First of all, our major subcontractors on board include ITT Exelis — their primary role is navigation, along with JPL [ed. Jet Propulsion Laboratory]. JPL is active in the Kalman Filter area. Key management and global monitoring station receivers are also part of Exelis’ efforts. They are based in New Jersey and have been a key part of this team from the beginning. I am happy to say they survived the recent storms and did not miss a beat. For the overall GPS enterprise, ITT Exelis also supports the navigation side with Lockheed Martin for the space vehicle.

We have a number of small company subcontractors — all experts in their chosen fields of endeavor. First, we have Infinity Systems, from Colorado Springs, Colorado, and they do primarily training, technical documentation, and opscon [ed. Operations Concepts] work. We are also teamed with Braxton Technologies, which you know well, also out of Colorado Springs. Braxton does our modeling and simulations as well as the command and control or C2 segment. We also have Soladyne Solutions, from Colorado Springs, supporting C2 and mission management and some of our infrastructure support. Geologics Corporation primarily provides staffing support and other key resources. RT Logic is on board for front-end processor work. All in all about 10% of the entire OCX program is being handled by our small business partners.

We also have several large subcontractors such as Boeing out of Aurora and Colorado Springs. Boeing is focused on the transition from AEP, the current operating C2 system, to OCX as well as operational activities, such as networking and data storage. Then we have our own Raytheon Network Centric Systems (NCS) folks out of Fullerton, California, who are our key connectivity into the FAA [ed. Federal Aviation Administration] and the civil world. NCS developed the GPS-based Wide Area Augmentation System or WAAS for the FAA and similar systems for Japan and India.

So, as you can see, this a very specific and highly qualified team put together to address OCX requirements.

DJ: Thanks, Ray. Perhaps this would be a good time to review the history of the OCX program and how we arrived where we are today.

RK: Absolutely. The history of OCX at Raytheon goes back much farther than you might think. There are actually two aspects of the history. Let’s start by looking at the OCS, or the operational control system for GPS that came on board in 2007.

When I was here at Raytheon in the 2002-2003 time frame, one of the primary objectives that we had was based on my and others experiences in space and ground development projects. The issue was this — the majority of space programs’ critical decisions were primarily based on the need to support the space segment. Most space programs contracted with a single space prime to build the ground, payload, and space segments. When push came to shove, decisions were made favoring the space and payload needs thereby often depriving the ground segment. Too many trades were made from the space segment perspective. For most of my career in the US Air Force and in the aerospace industry, decisions were made the same way. In other words, the ground segment would suck it up and do whatever it had to do to make it work with what assets remained.

DJ: It sounds like you are saying the ground segment was often an afterthought.

RK: Exactly, Don. It was truly an afterthought. When additional money was needed to pay for issues on the spacecraft or payload side, it was always an easy decision to go pull money out of the ground segment, because management was always primarily spacecraft or hardware guys. Now many of these decisions may have been the best decisions given the flexibility of the ground segment and its ability to respond to changes in space, but the ground was not always an equal partner when it came to system level trades. Now I have to admit that the hardware, the spacecraft, and the sensors are sexy because it is great to be able to go out and touch and feel something, but it just does not work without the core capability of the ground segment and software that makes the system truly operational. This mindset, as I said, goes all the way back to my ops days in the Air Force in Sunnyvale, California, in the 1970s. Some of the stuff I saw back then helps me with OCX today from an ops viewpoint, because knowing what it takes to build and deliver a system and then make it operational are often two totally different areas of expertise. So having operational experience in running a ground control system and seeing what it takes to get there is important.

Don, this brings me to an item concerning testing that I will talk more about later, but in Sunnyvale in the 1970s we often found system software deliveries with numerous problems. We were launching three vehicles a year and had 30-60 days between missions. We had issues primarily because the software developers — and this goes back to a whole “day in the life” testing, or “test it as you fly” paradigm — did not test software against real life databases or actual flight commands, like we do today. So in the ’70s we went down to the contractor’s integration facility and started running our own tests before the software ever officially came into the facility; this added step greatly improved our capability to test and run the system. They delivered the right stuff the first time and it actually worked.

These are the types of things that, when you have a ground segment and operations background, help you improve the overall system. That history is part of the motivation for the changes we are looking at with the government today; it applies to OCX as well as other space programs. There is a genuine need to separate ground and space acquisitions. So that is part of the history of what this organization, Raytheon, started to do and was pushing for in the early 2000s in Air Force Space Command. Fortunately for GPS, we were able to get the ground segment broken out as a separate acquisition. This is a concept we have been chasing and pushing since the early 2000 time frame.

For instance, in 2007 the competition for OCX was between Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and Lockheed Martin. I think our separate ground approach really helped us put together a winning bid and a system and capability that in the end will optimize and drive the overall system performance so that we all benefit. We have a very operable system, and we support the navigation needs of the civil and the military user.

DJ: So, Ray, what you are saying is that Raytheon, since the early 2000s, came to the realization that just because a company knows how to build a rocket does not necessarily mean they know anything about the ground system, the command and control system, or even the satellite and payload. They may have some expertise in those areas but it is not a given.

RK: That is absolutely correct, Don. Those are all different specialties, and as you go forward you need people that are smart in all regimes so you can figure out how to optimize the system and work from the system perspective.

DJ: Ray, you mentioned your Air Force career several times and the perspective it gave you. Give us just a bit more background and clarify how you wound up as the OCX PM.

RK: Sure, Don, I was very fortunate. I spent from 1971-79 in the U.S. Air Force. The first couple of years I attended graduate school at AFIT in Dayton, Ohio, at Wright Patterson Air Force Base [Ed: Air Force Institute of Technology]. Then I went off to Sunnyvale, California, to the Air Force Satellite Control Facility, or the Blue Cube as it was often called at the time, for four years, where I did my satellite operations stint. I did satellite ops in the days when we generated our command messages to the satellite on an old IBM 29 keypunch card and a CDC 3800 computer. We used telephone networks to transmit the data to the remote tracking stations where it was uploaded to the satellites. It was a totally different world of Command and Control in the days before relay satellites. We had remote tracking stations. We were ready with our data every ninety minutes in a message format that was sent up to the vehicle. It taught us a lot about schedule and timeliness and the ability to respond to the needs of the system.

After Sunnyvale I went down the road to Los Angeles to work in the Special Projects Organization. I worked the mission SPO and the ground systems for some future space capabilities. I spent two and a half years in LA, and then got out of the Air Force after nine years. I really enjoyed my time in the Air Force and I learned a great deal, but I made a personal decision to get out based on family considerations. Plus I really did not enjoy moving all the time.

I kept working in the industry and I worked for a small company doing orbit determination and mission management work for a number of programs. We had an opportunity to support a couple of programs in the Denver area with the old Martin Marietta Company, and one thing led to another, and in 1981 we moved to Colorado and we have been here ever since. I worked various programs for Martin Marietta and then Lockheed Martin. Then I worked for the Hughes Raytheon Group, and Northrop Grumman, basically working ground support systems for DoD and intelligence programs.

I left Raytheon in 2006, spent five years with Northrop Grumman, and decided to retire. I quickly got bored with retirement, and Bill Jones at Raytheon allowed me to come back as his deputy. So I returned in February 2011, and since we were making changes on the OCX program, I volunteered to run the program. I really thought I could come in, make a difference and help. I came to this job last December [ed. 2011].

I know you want to talk about the management changes made back then and why they came about. I can only give you Raytheon’s viewpoint. You should talk to the government about its changes. For Raytheon, part of the reason for change is because there is a huge difference — as I found out when I was working for Lockheed Martin with some really creative people who know how to put a concept and a message together concerning what you should build and why — between the planners and marketers and how you actually get it done. The same group that sells the program is not always the best group to go off and execute and make a program successful.

DJ: So, Ray, even though some old-school types make think this is heresy, you’re saying that a good or even great capture manager does not always a good or great program manager make.

RK: Yeah. Most of my background has been on the mission execution side of the house. When management discussed making changes, I talked with Bill Jones and Lynn Dugle about OCX and managing the program to see if we could move it in the right direction. So far, we have been successful in making changes that have benefited the program. We have more challenges to tackle, but that happens on big programs — and GPS OCX is a big program. We are making progress.

The changes we made on the program would not be possible without the partnership of an exceptional government team. They have solid program management and development experience. In particular Mr. Leonard, who is running the ground system for the GPS Directorate, and Lt. Col. Blevins [ed. USAF] who is our COTR or Contracting Officer’s Technical Representative, understand what it takes to build a complete system. Still, we continue to work through the new mindset of separate ground segment development. This is the first major program where the Air Force has separate space and ground primes. It takes a strong partnership across the enterprise to make this work.

DJ: Ray, pardon my interruption, but I think you are being a bit too modest. You have been on board since last December, and I will frankly tell you that my sources, and they are considerable and closely connected to the GPS program, indicate that a year ago OCX was in dire danger, some would even say imminent danger of being cancelled. The PMs for both Raytheon and the government were both pointing fingers at each other, acrimonious arguments ensued, and I’m told the Raytheon PM at the time blamed the customer for most of the problems. It was, so my sources say, a “my way or the highway” paradigm on the part of Raytheon… Then you stepped in and changed all that. It was a sea-state change of major proportions and a complete change of attitude, a more mature attitude if you will. Of course the government also changed its program managers around the same time, and now things seem to be back on an even keel. Plus, since you successfully negotiated Milestone B, things are looking up.

In all seriousness, I am sanguine that a year ago the whole OCX program was within a hair’s breadth of being cancelled, and you have to or should take some of the credit for saving the program. It goes back to the earlier assertion that a good capture manager does not always translate or make the transition to a good program manager. It is nothing for anyone to be ashamed of, and in my opinion the positions just require different strengths. Raytheon obviously saw the need for a change, and I for one think and the evidence bears out that they made the right decision.

RK: Don, in all modesty, I do too, but once again if it had just been a change with me coming over I am not sure if we would have been successful. The government made changes as well, and it is a partnership at this point, and that is how we have been able to work with the customer and that is the only way we are going to be successful on this program. And we have been successful. As you said we successfully negotiated Milestone B and we have to keep our nose to the grindstone and make it happen if we are going to continue to be successful. We still have a lot of work to do. We also needed our technical team to buy into a new way of doing business on the program. We have an excellent team that is building a quality product and, we and the government, are focused on program execution. This was demonstrated by our achievement of program performance milestones that were used as part of the Milestone B decision.

DJ: Ray since you took over, there have been several programmatic changes. Capabilities have been modified, deleted, and moved to the right in some cases. Talk about what Raytheon originally hoped to achieve on OCX and how the contract changes and modifications have affected those original goals and if they are even achievable today.

RK: Don, part of what we originally wanted to achieve with OCX goes back to my earlier comments about expertise. We demonstrated that separating the ground from the space segment and making the ground segment agnostic from the space segment is important…that is really objective one as we get into working with different GPS vehicles. Particularly as we look at the future and installation options, one of the abilities we have, here at Raytheon, is that we continue to build that agnostic mindset, and let’s say an expandable ground system. So if we come in with different kinds of smaller vehicles, different kinds of obits with different capabilities, we are in a position to build architectures that are able to accommodate those. We are not tethered to a given hardcore set of requirement. I think that gives the government a lot of capability in the future to transform GPS operations and really make it a much more active and dynamic kind of environment that provides the necessary data for both civil and military users.

We truly need to look at how we automate and allow easier access for the end user to some of the navigation data. We are looking at this as part of our CIP team or Capability Insertion Program. We are looking at future enhancements to expedite the process rather than requiring everyone to go to a central node to get things taken care of.

A little bit more on CIP: Today all major developments, on a back-to-basics approach, have a CIP to help mature technologies for on-ramping new capabilities in the program. In fact, Don, if you remember, you actually saw the outcome of one of our CIP demos at the National Space Symposium last year.

The key is getting data to the user faster and helping them in their situational awareness and planning activities. These are the keys we have in place and now we need to perform and demonstrate that the concepts we had up front make sense for the Air Force and the civil community.

DJ: Ray, that is an excellent historical synopsis, and with that perspective, just where are we today in the OCX program? Outline some recent highlights and give us a current status.

RK: One of the highlights is successfully passing Milestone B — which, while it is not an official contractor event, it is a government event and it is certainly a strong message that we do have an executable program. We now better understand what it is going to take to get us there. The government has the FYDP [ed. Future Years Defense Program] budget dollars to make it happen. I think that message, especially given the concerns we had with the program less than a year ago, is a substantial highlight for the whole program.

DJ: Ray, did you read the tea leaves as many of us did — had Raytheon failed to successfully negotiate Milestone B, recognized official pivotal event or not, it could have spelled the end of the OCX program?

RK: Yep, we understood that and so there was pressure. And I will once again say that I really admire the work accomplished by the program office to prepare and get us there. They busted their tails in making sure they responded to all the requests from OSD [ed. Office of the Secretary of Defense].

DJ: As you said previously, both sides are now cooperating to make OCX a success. However, there are still major issues concerning cyber and information assurance. Almost every program today is struggling with these requirements. Is OCX any different?

RK: During the whole Milestone B process, there were issues regarding information assurance or IA, and whether we have the right approach. Initially, there was clearly some doubt. I will say that some early comments were not necessarily clear…they were misinterpreted or misstated, which led folks to say, “gee we don’t think you have a solution.” Consequently, we got to spend a quality day with the OSD CIO [ed. Chief Information Officer] team. Actually I think that was probably one of the most beneficial days we spent with any of the government review groups. When the CIO group came in… Well, to say they were skeptical is probably an understatement. One of the statements from the chairman was, “I don’t know why I’m here… I don’t think you have the right answer.” That is how it started.

At the end of the day, and again I give credit to Lt. Col. Blevins and the government team, the IA team had a solid understanding of exactly what we were doing for information assurance, how we were looking at things. How we ensured that all the STIG [ed. Defense Information Systems Agency’s Security Technical Implementation Guides] updates came out and how we updated and drove forward with our coding standards. We had the right approach to work the security vulnerabilities for our legacy code, which is still an issue, in that we have a lot of old C and C++ that was never designed to operate in this kind of IA world; even with test plans, and I know we will spend more time with them on test plans. I think getting the acknowledgement that we have a solid activity going forward was a big message. Then last week we learned that, according to Lt. Col. Blevins and Mr. Leonard, it now appears our IA program is the poster child for DoD and space programs.

DJ: Ray, my colleagues and I have been hearing those same IA and cyber concerns and what you just said is huge for OCX. It appears that you made believers out of what is known to be a tough bunch of critics from OSD and even 24th Air Force.

RK: Success can be good and bad, Don, because it now puts additional pressure on us and gains us additional visibility from DoD, but I think it also speaks for the quality of the Information Assurance activity. And let’s face it, IA and cyber security are critical for the enterprise given the dependence of the system by both the DoD and civil users.

DJ: You alluded to the fact that many IA concerns are due to code reuse, which if I remember correctly was a large part of your response to the initial RFP for OCX. In other words, reusing legacy code is a big part of your program and planning going forward. Correct?

RK: Indeed, some concerns were over code reuse. We showed what we had accomplished to solve problems with regards to code reuse and how we isolate and treat vulnerabilities. Some issues are simple, like typically when you use C and C++, memory leaks are a common occurrence, but with IA you can’t allow that to happen. If you go to some of the old C-code stuff, one of the big issues is that C-code typically requires a root authority or a system administrator authority for the code, and you can’t do that in an IA environment. So we need to solve those issues going forward in the legacy code. Now, let’s face it, as you said, there is a lot of legacy code in the OCX program and we need to address it. There is a lot of COTS [ed. Commercial Off The Shelf) code on this program, and the COTS and the hardware require a lot of capabilities be built in to support hardening and configuring the system. So there is a lot of effort going into these solutions. We must ensure we’ve got the secure coding standards right as we develop our modified or new code going forward and most importantly we have to test it all.

DJ: Ray, that is a testimony to all the hard work Raytheon and the government team have put into the OCX program. I can tell you that a year ago most pundits thought if OCX was going to be a poster child, it would be simply be for how not to conduct a program of this complexity and magnitude. However, it appears you have turned it around. I think we all better understand the comment by General Shelton during our conversation last month when he said, he was sanguine that, “OCX had turned the corner.”

RK: Thanks, Don, and we hope he is right. Another important event is Exercise One. Exercise One completed in August of this year, and it was our first exercise with Lockheed Martin and the GPS III Team. Actually, it was amazing because we started delivering data back in April that were crucial to the August test. Exercise One was the first of five exercises and five rehearsals that led up to the first launch of a GPS III space vehicle. Exercise One was primarily a command and telemetry exercise utilizing Lockheed simulators and our Iteration 1.4 core system. Part of the importance of the Exercise One process is the HMI [ed. Human Machine Interface]. We used the event to sit down with Lockheed Martin and make sure they understand the HMI, focusing on how to inject commands into the system, how to build command plans that go into what we call “procs” or procedures that basically are a linked number of commands that will command, in this case, the simulator, or ultimately the vehicle, to do whatever…turn on the command unit, turn on power or heat… whatever is required. We ingest command measurement lists from Lockheed, which are basically here are the commands and here is the format, back to bits in zeroes and ones to send out, and then these are the responses or telemetry coming back. Then we look for the nominal or yellow and red range where you would have the telemetry. Getting that done was Exercise One, a huge event for the enterprise. It put everybody, all segments of the program, in a great position going forward.

Next is Exercise Two, which is scheduled for January or February. Exercise Two moves into mission management aspects: planning, scheduling, orbit determination, maneuver determination, and maneuver simulation. It demonstrates some of the navigation capabilities, but the real test is to make sure we have all the capability to do the launch and checkout of the GPS III system when it is ready for launch in 2014.

Along the way we are going to do a significant amount of parallel testing and ultimately when we deploy the system there will be parallel ops with regards to OCS and OCX. We will conduct parallel ops until folks say, “OK, I am ready to start the real transition.” During that time, we will do some basic forward and backward data migration to ensure that ultimately with the switch over to OCX we have not lost access to the historical data the program requires.

DJ: I am assuming that, while you can run the systems in parallel, only one can be active. They can’t both be active and simultaneously commanding the GPS constellation, correct?

RK: That’s right, they can’t. We run parallel for testing only, and that is why the actual transition needs to take place sooner rather than later.

DJ: Ray, I was present for the whole buildup phase and ultimate transition from OCS to AEP, and while it went well, it was not without issues. I personally never cared for the metaphor of changing an engine on a car traveling down the freeway without the driver noticing. That is simply ludicrous, and the transition did not go that smoothly. Plus, if the users do not notice the difference, then why are we spending a billion dollars to make the change? I would hope your philosophy on transition is a bit more realistic and is built around dealing with the contingencies that invariably arise.

RK: I totally agree, Don. We are looking at it now, totally separate from the development of the minimized crew manning and automation study, and how we move forward. Reportedly the government will brief General Shelton [ed. Commander AFSPC] on these issues sometime just before the holidays.

DJ: Ray, since you took over as the new PM, there has been talk of capabilities and functions that have been deleted or moved to the right on the schedule to make the program more affordable and timely — fact or fiction?

RK: Frankly, I cannot address some of these issues in this venue. I will tell you that neither we nor AFSPC have moved much functionality to the right. The most important program that has moved is global M-code.

One of the areas that is straightforward and we can address here concerns ground antennas. OCX will use the ground antennas we have today. There will be a toggle switch, determining whether the ground antennas support OCX or OCS, and we will toggle that switch as necessary. We are working out the protocols for exactly how that will work and who makes the decisions on the position of the switch. It sounds like a simple thing, but frankly nothing is simple. Except for maybe the AFSCN [ed. Air Force Satellite Control Network] where OCS and OCX are totally transparent.

DJ: Ray, one of the big issues from a user standpoint is that OCX is currently not tasked to support the remaining active and residual GPS IIA satellites when transitioned. Rumor has it that IIA functionality is delegated to one of your subs, Braxton Technologies, which conducts LADO [ed. Launch, Anomaly, and Disposal Operations] today and maintains the residual satellites as well. We currently have GPS IIA satellites that have been in orbit and operating for more than 20 years. There could still be quite a few GPS IIAs in orbit if OCX sticks to the original deployment schedule. Any comment?

RK: Don, I knew you would ask about GPS IIAs, and right, that issue is still up in the air. As soon as these issues are finalized we can have a discussion about GPS IIAs and residual satellites. Sorry I can’t be of more help.

DJ: So now to a more timely topic, cost and schedule. Where is the OCX program in the budget and do you think it will be affected by sequestration, should it occur? Plus what is the RTO date? Is it the date OCX comes on line, or the date you do a DD250 handover to the government?

RK: Basically we are nearly on cost for the OCX contract. The current contract value is $925M; the original cost estimate was $886M. We are driving forward on that and the Block 1 date or Ready to Operate (RTO) date. Right now, the customer team is working on finalizing a new enterprise schedule that will show the PMD [ed. Program Management Directive] dates. So, we don’t know the exact date the government envisions. I expect an official date either late this year or early next year. I encourage you to ask Colonel Gruber [ed. Director GPS Directorate] this question and maybe then we will also get an answer. We have given them our recommendations.

Concerning sequestration, I am not worried. I believe we have a reasonable level of support from Congress to maintain and continue OCX. That doesn’t mean something won’t change. Our Washington folks tell us that OCX appears to be on solid footing. The Air Force FY13 RDT&E [ed. Research, Development, Test & Evaluation] budget request for OCX, to include Raytheon, support contractors, the GPS Directorate, FFRDCs [ed. Federally Funded Research and Development Centers] and the like, was $371.6M, and the CR or Continuing Resolution amount was $369.4 — given the current budget environment that is strong Congressional support.

DJ: Whether you know it or not you are echoing General Shelton’s comments in our last conversation when, to paraphrase, he indicated that in his view space programs were so important to the nation that he thought they would fare well in the budget debates and allocations.

Now Ray the bottom line is, so what? What will the successful deployment of OCX mean to civil and military users? Where’s the real bang for the buck?

RK: Don the successful completion of OCX will make a huge difference on a number of fronts. For instance even though the FAA and DOT don’t have a whole lot of funding to ante up, we are going to make a difference in how they operate in the future. Some actions are transparent, but not all, as we implement their requirements and as we move forward with OCX.

For example, you and I both do a lot of flying in our respective jobs; the sooner we implement the true capabilities of GPS on airliners and stop adhering only to the fixed air routes, the sooner we will start saving time and money with a vastly more efficient and flexible air routing system.

So, from the civil side, there is certainly a difference, and when we bring other signals in they will be key for us, such as L2C, L5, and L1C. We have the solutions to do that with our receivers at this point in time and I think it is fairly low risk. Indeed that is probably another of my unofficial milestones.

We accomplished a lot of work with ITT Exelis to ensure we have a good solid solution in Block 1 and Block 2 for URE or User Range Error. We are working to get the receiver elements deployed, which at one point was considered to be a high-risk item, but that is now in the works. This will allow all users to achieve greater accuracy.

I have not addressed the navigation side, but GPS accuracy will noticeably improve, and we will use a new Kalman Filter. We are working the new Kalman filter with ITT Exelis and JPL to enhance capabilities. Couple that with better information assurance, increased integrity and predictability, along with system safety, and you have many of the key differences in the OCS system going forward.

DJ: Ray, Steve Moran from Raytheon and I were in meetings last week where we discussed the requirements for and capabilities and accuracy resulting from adding a significant number of new GPS monitoring stations to the mix. Will OCX be able to handle the increase?

RK: We will accommodate them. We can always add more nodes to the system and building additional receivers is not an issue, unless you are an anti-tamper guru.

DJ: More pragmatically we have an arbitrary 31 PRN limit on the current AEP system. Can you tell me what the number of permissible PRNs will be with OCX, everything else being equal? Without any artificial constraints, what will OCX support?

RK: We are required to support 40 PRNs at a minimum, with growth potential to 63 PRNs, and we may be able to support more. I’m not sure there is a limit on the system as such.

DJ: Ray, thank you for your time today, and this wonderful conversation about one of my favorite topics. Considering there are more than 3 billion GPS users worldwide, it should be the favorite topic for lots of folks. Any closing comments?

RK: Having dealt with space programs all my career, I can say that it is not often that you see a program that generates developments in your career that make such a difference.

GPS and its utilization is such that the people in this country and around the world would not know what to do without it. How many cars or cell phones do you find today that do not have GPS? Something that started as a program to support military objectives has made such a substantial change in everyone’s lives around the world, whether they realize it or not.

Unfortunately, GPS is a lot like NASA space programs: most people don’t realize the impact these programs or other space programs have on their lives. It is truly a unique program from that aspect. Most of the stuff I dealt with earlier in my career has stayed behind closed doors and that is where it will remain. The GPS program is out there where you can see the benefit for everybody in the global community. That has probably been one of the best parts of the last 10-12 years in my career, because GPS supports so many of the programs I worked. What we do from space today, supporting this country and the rest of the world, along with the real applications that enhance activities and benefit individuals, is phenomenal and I think we have just scratched the surface.

My conversation with Congressman Pearlmutter’s Legislative Director was interesting from the aspect that he looked at what we could do concerning Tropical Storm Sandy. For instance the subways in New York pump over one million gallons of water out of the tunnels on a normal day. Using GPS, you can now determine vulnerable areas with respect to tidal and wave actions. It is amazing what you get when you connect weather and GPS data; it allows you to prevent some events that typically occur during these storms. Hopefully, the next generation will be able to use this data much more effectively.

There are people like Dr. Penny Axelrad at the University of Colorado and Professor Per Enge at Stanford, that I work with routinely on GPS matters, and I know they are working to make GPS data more useful and effective for all users. GPS adds extreme value to what we can do as a country at home and around the world. I am proud to be part of that.


So, that’s the story on GPS OCX, past, present and future.

Until next time, Happy Navigating.

— Don Jewell

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Don Jewell

About the Author:

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.

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