As the Air Force and its industry partners prepare for the launch of the first GPS III satellite next week, it will do so without an upgrade meant to help operators use legacy ground systems to control the new advanced systems, officials said Dec. 14.

The Air Force’s GPS Next-Generation Operational Control Segment (GPS OCX) is still years away, and the service contracted GPS III prime Lockheed Martin [LMT] to build what is known as the GPS OCX Contingency Operations (COps) update to serve as a gapfiller until OCX comes online.

The first GPS III space vehicle (SV 01) is currently scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket Dec. 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Florida, but a COps delivery is still six to nine months away, said Col. Steven Whitney, Global Positioning Systems director at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (AFSMC), during a media call on Friday.

Artistic rendering of a GPS III satellite (Image: Lockheed Martin)

Raytheon [RTN] is responsible for OCX, and Block 1 is expected to be fielded in 2021 or 2022, five to six years later than originally planned, Whitney said. Lockheed Martin is developing the Contingency Operations upgrade, which would allow the Air Force to use a legacy ground system to operate the GPS III satellites until OCX provides more advanced capabilities. Lockheed has previously confirmed that COps is scheduled for delivery in May 2019.

Raytheon delivered OCX Block 0 in 2017, and that capability will interact with GPS III for launch and checkout operations, the Air Force has previously said.

Whitney attributed the delay to software development challenges, but declined to provide particulars. He added that the directorate and industry partners are working through them. “We’ve had a number of issues and we’re working through them all and we’re on our way to delivering that system.”

Air Force officials on the call were optimistic about the inaugural launch of GPS III SV 01 next week. Capt. Jason W. Fontenot of the 45th Weather Squadron said probability stands at about 80 percent currently, with main concerns being thick clouds expected during the launch window. Dec. 19 is the backup date.

The launch will be a “milestone” in the Air Force’s partnership with SpaceX, said Walter Lauderdale, mission director at the SMC Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate. It will mark the first evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) launch on the Falcon 9, and also the first time a national security mission is sent into space via a SpaceX rocket, he said.

“The Air Force has grown in its partnership with SpaceX to identify and implement official ways of executing this demanding business while sustaining our unwavering focus on mission success.”

The first GPS III spacecraft was encapsulated in the Falcon 9’s fairing this past Tuesday (Defense Daily, Dec. 11). SV 02 was called up for launch in November and is slated to launch in 2019. Lockheed Martin is on contract to build 12 GPS III satellites, and in September the Air Force awarded the company a contract to build up to 22 GPS III Follow-On systems (Defense Daily, Sept. 26).

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect Col. Whitney’s comments that the GPS III Contingency Operations upgrade is expected to be delivered in six to nine months, which coincides with previous Lockheed statements that the capability will be delivered by May 2019. The original article misstated that that was six to nine months behind planned schedule.