As U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) prepares for the launch of the fifth Lockheed Martin [LMT] GPS III satellite on June 17 from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., SMC said that the new command and control (C2) system for the GPS III satellites will not be operational until the third quarter of fiscal 2023.

That C2 system is the $6.7 billion Raytheon Technologies [RTX] Global Positioning System Next Generation Operational Control System (GPS OCX).

If all goes as planned, June 17 will mark the launch and orbiting of the 24th M-Code GPS satellite since the first such bird, a GPS IIR-M, went into orbit in September, 2005.

While the 24 GPS M-Code satellites will provide global coverage, “[GPS] OCX and the user equipment piece do not come online until the third quarter of FY ’23 so that’s when we’d expect to have our initial operational capability for the GPS enterprise across all segments–space, ground, and user equipment,” Col. Edward Byrne, senior materiel leader for SMC’s Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division, told reporters on June 14.

Last month, a Government Accountability Office report, Space Acquisitions: DOD Faces Challenges and Opportunities with Acquiring Space Systems in a Changing Environment, noted some progress by DoD in solving multi-billion dollar cost overruns and significant delays in the fielding of space systems, but also pointed out continuing challenges, such as those with GPS OCX (Defense Daily, May 24). Costs on GPS OCX increased by 73 percent, and its schedule is delayed nearly 5 years, GAO said.

“Delays in the delivery of the GPS Next Generation Operational Control System and GPS user terminals means that jam-resistant signal capabilities of GPS satellites launched over 15 years ago still cannot be fully used for military operations,” per the GAO report.

On March 26 last year, SMC said that it told Raytheon to replace OCX’s IBM [IBM] computer hardware before the delivery of OCX due to the sale of IBM’s computer product line to Lenovo, owned by China. SMC said that it had successfully tested alternative computer hardware made by Hewlett Packard Enterprise [HPE], a U.S. company, in a pilot project after HPE’s selection in 2017.

That pilot project replaced IBM hardware with HPE’s in 17 external monitoring stations for GPS and four GPS ground antenna sites, SMC said.

The pilot project “gave us confidence that we had a viable OCX technical solution providing a long term sustainable hardware baseline that meets our stringent cyber security requirements,” Lt. Col. Thomas Gabriele, SMC’s OCX materiel leader, said in a statement in March last year. “As Raytheon continues to track to their contractual commitments, addressing the unsupportable IBM cyber security risk is prudent to do pre-system delivery to the government. Although this government-directed change will impact the Raytheon schedule, the government is holding Raytheon accountable to deliver qualified software prior to integrating on the HPE platform and deploying to operational sites.”

On March 26 last year, SMC said that “in less than a year” Raytheon was to deliver a “qualified software baseline capable of operating the GPS constellation.” SMC did not respond by press time on June 14 as to whether GPS has delivered such a new, software baseline.

Despite COVID-19 and other challenges, “2020 turned out to be a very successful year for the GPS III program,” SMC’s Byrne told reporters. “The team successfully launched two more GPS III space vehicles and transitioned the first four GPS III space vehicles to operations. The team is off to yet another strong start in 2021 with three more GPS III space vehicles being declared available for launch and now closing in on the launch of [GPS III] SV05 [Space Vehicle 05] for Thursday.”

The June 17 launch is to mark the first National Security Space Launch (NSSL) to take advantage of a reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. As the 24th M-Code GPS satellite, SV05 is “the last needed to bring M-Code to full operational capability,” Byrne said in a statement.

Reusing the Falcon 9 boosters for the launches of GPS III SV05 and GPS III SV06 is to save Space Force $64 million.

Walter Lauderdale, Falcon division chief and deputy mission director for SMC’s Launch Enterprise, told reporters on June 14 that SMC reviewed 443 changes for SV05 to maintain currency with the launch vehicle’s technical baseline and completed more than 380 verification tasks, including updating 72 non-recurring design validation elements, 259 launch site processing assessments, and evaluating 80 risks.

Like the first four GPS III satellites, the fifth is to have three times the precision, navigation, and timing accuracy of other GPS satellites and an eightfold increase in anti-jamming capability, said Lt. Col. Brian Eno, commander of Space Launch Delta 45’s 1st Range Operations Squadron.

In addition to the GPS III satellites, SMC may field up to 22 Lockheed Martin GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) satellites to incorporate new capabilities, such as regional military protection, a fully digital navigation payload, and an accuracy enhancing laser reflector array to include a search and rescue payload.

“Space has become a more contested environment with more competitive adversaries,” said Tonya Ladwig, Lockheed Martin’s vice president for navigation systems. “Today’s GPS satellite constellation with its older satellites launched in the late 1990s and early 2000s continues to provide very valuable services, but it needs the new modernized technologies and capabilities to take on the challenges of the future.”