Next March’s planned launch of the Air Force Research Laboratory’s (AFRL) 1,100 pound experimental Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) offers the potential for the U.S. Space Force to adopt advanced protection technologies for GPS and positioning, navigation, and timing (PNT) systems, a U.S. Space Force official said on Apr. 6.
“We are watching NTS-3 very closely,” Cordell DeLaPeña, Space Systems Command’s program executive officer of military communications and PNT, said during a press conference at the Space Foundation’s Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colo. “I think that has high utility for incorporating high TRL [technology readiness level], low-risk capabilities into our existing production lines, as well as an opportunity to expand the architecture.”
L3Harris has said that it plans to deliver NTS-3 later this year. The satellite is to launch aboard the first operational United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket (Defense Daily, Apr. 1).
ULA is a partnership between Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA].
NTS-3, one of four of the Department of the Air Force’s Vanguard programs to field advanced technologies rapidly, is to demonstrate next generation PNT and to test reprogrammable software-defined receivers for use by military forces (Defense Daily, Sept. 10, 2021).
The technologies on NTS-3, which is to have a geostationary (GEO) orbit, are to counter attempts by adversaries to jam PNT signals from GPS and other PNT satellites.
The planned NTS-3 launch would come nearly 46 years after NTS-2, which launched on June 23, 1977, carried the first orbital cesium clock and became the basis for the GPS constellation.
“Things we’re looking at as part of that [NTS-3] demonstration [are] the ability to do on-orbit reprogramming–think software-defined radios,” DeLaPeña said on Apr. 6. “Instead of having to build another satellite with specific hardware, they’re going to demonstrate a capability to reprogram a wave form on orbit to eliminate the long development cost of that in parallel, in partnership with Wright-Patterson AFB. On the ground receiver side, they’re also going to be prototyping a software-defined receiver so that in conflict under new threats, very rapidly you can change the characteristics of the wave form, the satellite and our receivers to mitigate any emerging threats. I think it’s got a lot of promise.”
“I also like that they’re going to demonstrate what’s called ‘clock ensemble,'” he said. “It’s a technique that instead of using the feed from one clock, you take into consideration all the clocks to get more robust timing. The clock piece is something that we could potentially incorporate into our GPS-IIIF production buy, if the demo goes well on this mission.”
Space Force has said that it 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.
L3Harris is assembling NTS-3 at the company’s Palm Bay, Fla., plant near Cape Canaveral. The satellite is to have 110 antennas to help counter attempted GPS jamming.
L3Harris said last year that ground testing had proven the ability of NTS-3 to change waveforms–testing that will continue in space for a year after the scheduled 2023 NTS-3 launch.