The navigation payload for the Space Force’s forthcoming new GPS satellites has passed a critical developmental milestone, contractor L3Harris Technologies [LHX] announced Feb. 11.

The company completed the critical design review (CDR) phase for the Space Force’s GPS III Follow-On satellite’s payload, which will include a fully digital Mission Data Unit (MDU) for the first time, per a Feb. 11 release. The new MDU will provide more powerful signals and boosted capabilities over the L3Harris-made 70-percent-digital MDU in GPS III Space Vehicles 1 through 10.

“The digital payload is flexible enough to adapt to advances in GPS technology and future warfighter mission needs,” said Ed Zoiss, president of L3Harris’ Space and Airborne Systems segment, in the release. “Proceeding to the next stage in the GPS IIIF navigation payload development process moves the program closer to supporting evolving Air Force mission requirements.”

The new GPS IIIF payload will also benefit from the outcome of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Navigation Technology Satellite (NTS)-3 program, which is also led by L3Harris. NTS-3 is developing a small satellite to host new position, navigation and timing technologies to supplement the GPS constellation.

The program, which recently passed its preliminary design review, is one of the Air Force’s three “Vanguard” programs, or efforts to quickly demonstrate the viability of critical emerging technologies for key mission needs (Defense Daily, Feb. 5).

Lockheed Martin [LMT] is the prime contractor for the GPS III and GPS IIIF programs, which together could include up to 32 new satellites with increased capabilities over the current constellation. The first two GPS IIIF satellites – also known as GPSIII Space Vehicles 11 and 12 – are currently under contract.

Lockheed announced Monday that it successfully delivered GPS III Space Vehicle 3, “Columbus” to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to prepare for a scheduled launch in April (Defense Daily, Feb. 11).