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AF Space Commander: GPS III, OCX Delayed

May 28, 2012
Inside GNSS, May/June 2012

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Launch of the first GPS III satellite has slipped to 2015 and completion of the ground control system is now delayed by up to two years, according to the chief of the Air Force’s space operations

“We’ll be ready to launch the first GPS III in 2015, but it now appears the next generation GPS Operational Control System, or OCX, won’t be ready for about a year or two after that,” General William L. Shelton, commander of Air Force Space Command (AFSPC) told attendees at the 28th Annual National Space Symposium.

The first GPS III satellite had been expected to launch sometime in 2014. The slip in the satellite’s launch date, however, is not due to development problems with the spacecraft, according to the program’s primary contractor.

“Production is proceeding well and we are on schedule to deliver the first GPS III satellite for launch availability in 2014,” said Michael Friedman, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin. “The Air Force will make a launch date decision based on booster availability, ground system readiness and DoD priorities.”

Capt. Chris Sukach, an AFSPC spokesperson at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, explained, “The GPS program launches at a rate required to sustain the constellation; so, satellite Available for Launch (AFL) dates and projected range dates may differ. As planned, GPS III SV-01 will be available for launch no earlier than spring of 2014 and is in the process of planning for launch in 2015, given the current health of the constellation.”

Several sources familiar with the program suggested that the launch delay might be due to a shortage of launch capacity.

Military officials have, however, been anticipating a shortfall of launch capability and studying ways to ease the crunch and keep down escalating costs and effort that could be particularly important to maintaining the capability of the GPS system. The early satellites were launched in rapid succession to fill out the constellation and are now aging — and potentially failing — in rapid succession as well.

To keep the constellation healthy the military is looking at launching more than one GPS satellite at a time. The Air Force and industry are also considering other kinds of launch vehicles for military payloads.

“We’re working hard with United Launch Alliance to get costs under control,” Shelton told the meeting attendees in April, “and we’re simultaneously planning for new entrants to complete the certification process required to fly national security payloads.”

While the delay of the first satellite launch should be a year or less, the slippage on the ground control segment could be as long as two years. This has triggered some changes to the way the work is being handled.

Re-Engineering the OCX Contract
Completion of the Next Generation Operational Control System or OCX, which was expected to be delivered in 2015, has been delayed to 2016 or 2017. However, an expert familiar with the issue who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that the schedule had some padding for contingencies.

The source said that the delay is the result of modifications to the technical baseline of the contract and formal recognition of shifts in the contract’s requirements.

“Over the last six months, there have been a number of significant contractual changes to the OCX program,” confirmed Jared Adams, a spokesman for OCX prime contractor Raytheon, including “updates to the technical baseline and scope reductions to address affordability challenges.”

Those affordability challenges had led the Air Force to ask Raytheon to find some savings, said the source. After working closely with defense officials, the company proposed deferring or deleting some capabilities, implementing some changes in the near term and delaying others until later in the sustainment part of the program, said the source.

Although the person declined to cite specific details changes because they were still under consideration, the modifications could save more than $100 million. Some of those changes, however, would come at the expense of the program’s schedule, according to the source.

But Air Force Has a Plan
To reduce the impact of the OCX delay, said Shelton, the Air Force has “developed a mitigation plan that will at least allow launch and some navigation payload control.”

That plan includes several new contracts, including two awarded to Raytheon and Lockheed at the beginning of the year. The Air Force says that an early version of OCX software (Block 0) will be capable of supporting all mission operations necessary to launch and check out the first GPS III spacecraft.

Raytheon won the Launch and Checkout System (LCS) contract that supports the GPS III satellites up to the point of launch. Under LCS the firm “will provide for the early identification and mitigation of any GPS III enterprise risks, support ground checkout and launch operations and resolve any anomalies prior to the first GPS III satellite launch,” said Ray Kolibaba, GPS OCX program manager for Raytheon’s intelligence and information systems business, in a January statement.

Once a GPS III satellite is ready for launch, the support function is handed off to Lockheed Martin. Under its new Launch and Checkout Capability (LCC) contract, Lockheed will support the actual launches, early orbit operations and checkout of all GPS III satellites before they are turned over to Air Force Space Command for operation. The contract includes trained satellite operators and an operations center at Lockheed Martin’s Newtown, Pennsylvania, facility.

The LCC team should be ready for the first scheduled readiness exercise in August, said Friedman.

“The two pieces [LCS and LCC] work hand in hand,” said Keoki Jackson, vice-president of Lockheed Martin’s navigation systems mission area. He said that the LCC work moves the overall ground control capability forward by bringing online some GPS III–specific capabilities before the full OCX system is in place.

“We start with the LCC and then transition at some point in time to full OCX operations,” he said. Full OCX operations will encompass the IIF satellites, the IIR and IIRM satellites, and the full on-orbit operational maintenance of the GPS III after the early-orbit checkout.

According to the AFSPC’s Sukach, LCS brings integrated capabilities not available with the existing Architecture Evolution Plan (AEP) and the Launch, Anomaly, and Disposal Operations (LADO) system. The were both introduced in September 2007 and are currently used for command and control of GPS satellites.

“An advantage of LCS is that it can perform on-orbit checkout exclusively, thus omitting the need to de-conflict schedules with the 50th Space Wing in order to conduct the operation,” Sukach told Inside GNSS. “More importantly, LADO is not capable of launching a GPS III. Part of the OCX acquisition strategy was to ensure the government had one integrated system to launch, checkout, command and control GPS. OCX does that, as AEP and LADO are two stand alone systems.”

The LCC/LCS is scheduled to be available to support the first GPS III SV-01 launch, according to the Air Force.

Because the earlier generation of high-performing GPS Block IIAs had not been expected to last until the modernized control segment came on-line, AFSPC proposes to fund the current LADO operator, Braxton Technologies, to add command and control capability to OCX for them as well.

A Larger Part for LCC to Play
Jackson said that the Air Force is now considering an expanded role for LCC.

“The planned Launch and Checkout Capability only allows the check out and testing of the payloads, but currently doesn’t support the full operation in setting the vehicle healthy as part of the constellation,” he said. The Air Force is studying ways to extend the capability for full operations of the satellite downstream, Jackson added

Lockheed will likely gain some useful experience for such a downstream mission under a new contract announced May 4.

“Under the contract, Lockheed Martin will provide technical support to the Air Force’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2SOPS) to monitor the health and performance of the first two GPS III satellites from launch through their 15 year operational design lives,” said Friedman in a statement. The contract will also support the LCC operations at the company’s Newtown facility.

Before the implementation of the LCC a lot of the GPS III work would have been done out of Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, by Air Force personnel, said Jackson. Tapping the facility in Newtown will enable the Air Force to move faster.

The government has a fairly lengthy lead-time to staff and train personnel for these positions, Jackson said. “In general, a contractor operation is more streamlined in terms of the schedule to make that happen.”

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