Two of the three companies studying the GPS III next-generation navigation-satellite system have joined forces as the US Air Force moves ahead with the programme. Lockheed Martin has teamed with Spectrum Astro and is expected to compete with Boeing for two contracts to define the system requirements for GPS III.

The USAF plans to launch the first GPS III satellite in fiscal year 2012, but the US Department of Defense is exploring the option of an FY2010 first launch if extra funding can be secured.

GPS III satellites will provide new military and civil signals with improved accuracy and reliability and greater resistance to jamming and interference.

Boeing and Lockheed Martin were awarded system architecture and requirements definition contracts in November 2000. Losing bidder Spectrum Astro elected to continue on its own money and last year received USAF funding to work on specific aspects of its GPSIII architecture. At the same time, the Boeing and Lockheed Martin contracts were extended to January this year.

The US Air Force plans to award two Phase A contracts in September, each worth $20-25 million and lasting 21-29 months. These will take the programme to a system requirements review, says Ron Graves, director of defence systems at Spectrum Astro, after which the USAF plans to select a team to begin development of the GPS III ground and space segments.

Graves says the two companies are "a good fit", combining Lockheed Martin's "tremendous" GPS expertise with smaller Spectrum Astro's innovative approach to design of the ground segment and spacecraft. Lockheed Martin built the latest GPS IIR satellites, but Spectrum Astro "started with a clean sheet", he says. "We have found a good mix of new ideas and experience."

Source: Flight International