L3Harris [LHX] is on track with the building of the 1,100 pound experimental Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3), which is to launch aboard the first operational United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket next March, an L3Harris official said on Apr. 1.
“We are still on track to deliver [the NTS-3 satellite] at the end of this year,” Colin Mitchell, vice president and general manager of L3Harris’ radio frequency division, said in a telephone interview.
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 positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) technologies 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.
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is to showcase some of its programs, including NTS-3, at the 37th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs from Apr. 4-7.
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. About 2/3 of L3Harris’ space business is in Palm Bay, while the company’s GPS/PNT headquarters is in Clifton, N.J.
“I’d emphasize the resiliency part of it,” Mitchell said of NTS-3. “You see what’s going on in the world–whether it’s from cyber [attacks] or from any types of jamming. You’ve seen what’s happening around Ukraine–how some of the commercial constellations are getting jammed. All the military constellations face the same threat. One of the biggest advantages of NTS-3 is the resiliency it will offer privileged military users. Now, more than ever, with real life examples, we can say, ‘Look how important this and look how different and better’–not just from the speed because it’s so much faster, not just from the cost because it’s so much cheaper, but because it’s reprogrammable, and it’s at GEO, and it has the spot beams.”
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.
“One of the big product lines we have are these ‘green radios’ that are used by most of the U.S. military,” Mitchell said. “We are going to prove how you can use NTS-3 on those radios within the next year.”
The backbone of the National Defense Space Architecture (NDSA), the Transport Layer, is to provide the rapid targeting of ground and maritime targets over Link 16.
The optically-connected satellites will also supply PNT to U.S. and allied forces in GPS-denied environments.
“To make these disaggregated [Transport Layer] architectures work, to make almost all the satellites in space work, they have to get a PNT signal off of GPS, and if GPS struggles, a lot of those satellites become non-mission capable so having something like NTS-3 up high in GEO as a backup is a major enabling capability for many other satellites in space,” Mitchell said.
The first launch of the Space Development Agency (SDA) Tranche 0 “warfighter immersion” satellites is to occur this September. Launches of 126 to 144 fully operational Tranche 1 Transport Layer satellites are to begin in fiscal 2024.
Lockheed Martin [LMT] and York Space Systems are building 20 satellites for Tranche 0 of the Transport Layer.