Directions 2013: Doing More with Less to Advance GNSS

December 1, 2012  - By
Affordability, Capability, and Back-to-Basics Acquisition

Keoki Jackson

By Keoki Jackson

The history of GNSS shows each year has always been more successful than the year prior, and in 2013 we expect the trend to continue. In the United States, the role of GPS will continue to expand, and the applications for our technology will reach sectors we never imagined. As our international partner countries continue to launch GNSS satellites, and user equipment develops further, our community will increase its globalization, and international cooperation will reach new heights.

At the same time, our industry will see its fair share of challenges. We anticipate several significant trends to be further defined next year.

First, in the satellite world, affordability will be the name of the game. There is no disputing that the U.S. government is in austere budget times, and the Air Force will be asked to do more in acquiring GPS space, ground, and military user equipment, with fewer resources. Industry will partner with the Air Force in this new reality, and on the satellite manufacturing side, industry and government will need to demonstrate reduced costs, while sustaining the constellation and posturing for future demands.

It is no secret that military operations depend on GPS, and adversaries are working aggressively to erode the GPS combat advantage with low-cost jamming devices, spoofing concepts, or cyber attacks. On the user demand side, we expect the need for anti-jamming capability to become even more critical for military users. We also expect users to demand better accuracy and integrity, both in the military and civil communities. In 2013, the United States must secure its critical modernization efforts to meet these demands and bolster the space, ground, and user architecture against potential threats.

For us at Lockheed Martin, the message is clear. The threats and demands for enhanced capability are real, but the budget to meet those demands is shrinking. This presents a challenge, but we believe 2013 is the year we meet the challenge and position for the future.

GPS III, the Air Force’s next generation GPS satellite system, is a central part of the modernized solutions for the challenges laid out above. GPS III is the most affordable way to meet the increasing demand from users, while also prudently posturing the enterprise for the future. In 2013, we intend to prove that.

Space acquisition has weathered painful challenges in the past — that is not news — but the Air Force laid out the GPS III acquisition plan to reverse the trend and regain acquisition confidence. Leveraging hard-won lessons, the Air Force instilled a “back-to-basics” acquisition approach to provide better mission assurance, cost confidence, and schedule predictability. The approach emphasizes early investments in rigorous systems engineering, industry-leading parts standards, and the development of a fully functional GPS III satellite pathfinder to retire risks early and lower overall program costs. These investments early in the GPS III program were designed to prevent the types of engineering issues discovered on other programs late in the flight vehicle manufacturing process or even on orbit.

Back to Basics

The question in 2013 will be, “Is back-to-basics working?” — and we intend to show continued evidence of success next year. We will complete work on the GPS III Non-Flight Satellite Testbed (GNST), our full-sized GPS III satellite prototype. We will ship it to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, for pathfinding activities at the launch site as we complete integration of the first space vehicle in our highly efficient GPS Processing Facility. The GNST is used to identify and solve development issues prior to integration and test of the first space vehicle. This will be a major milestone, putting the GNSS community on the cusp of fielding a new generation of PNT capabilities through very efficient and affordable production for all GPS III satellites.

Further proving out the back-to-basics acquisition approach, in 2013 we will be converting our options to build the next eight GPS III satellites to a fixed price contract structure, rather than cost-plus. This transition will limit the government’s risk and significantly contribute to Air Force affordability goals. The back-to-basics acquisition strategy and the progress we have already made on our GPS III prototype give us high confidence in our ability to perform efficient and affordable fixed-price satellite production going forward.

As the austere budget environment is amplified in 2013, we will focus our attention on our GPS III program performance while aggressively pursuing affordability and efficiency initiatives to ensure we are providing great value to the end user while being the best possible stewards of the American public’s investment.

User Demands

Affordability is one challenge; the other is meeting user demands. While the first GPS III satellites will bring on significant new capabilities, including improved accuracy, better anti-jam power, and a new civil signal to be interoperable with international GNSS systems, we do need to continue planning for technology upgrades in the future.

The Air Force laid out the GPS III program from the very beginning with evolution in mind — and the GPS III satellites have pre-architected capacity to add new capabilities and technologies affordably and with low risk. The acquisition plan calls for technology insertion beginning on the ninth satellite. 2013 will be a critical year in finalizing the production schedule for the capability insertion program.

We look at technology insertion in two ways: technology to reduce costs and technology to increase capabilities. To that end, we are developing dual launch, higher anti-jam signal power for the military, a new search and rescue payload, a digital navigation payload with the capability to incorporate new signals after launch, real time command and control cross links to improve system accuracy and a host of other innovations.

The timing for when these new capabilities will be on ramped onto new satellites will be determined by user demands and technical maturity. In 2013, we will be working very closely with the Air Force to implement a low risk ongoing modernization program to ensure GPS III meets the needs of users for decades to come while maintaining or reducing the per unit cost of a GPS III satellite.

In the uncertain and challenging environment of 2013 and beyond, GNSS technology will certainly continue to improve. User demand will increase significantly, while the resources to meet those demands will remain stable or decline. It is a tough challenge, but the GNSS industry has not disappointed yet, and we do not expect anything different in 2013 and beyond.


Dana (Keoki) Jackson is vice president of Navigation Systems in Space Systems Company’s Military Space line of business for Lockheed Martin Corporation. He is responsible for leading all aspects of the next-generation GPS III navigation satellite program for the United States Air Force, as well as operations and sustainment of the GPS IIR and IIRM satellites. Prior to joining Lockheed Martin, he was a NASA research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, conducting Space Shuttle flight experiments in the field of human adaptation to the space environment. He has a doctoral degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics fromthe Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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