GPS III satellites and ground station projects get even later as costs gently spiral

What's a few more billion between friends, eh?

US defence technology firm Raytheon’s advanced GPS project has encountered yet more cost-inflating delays, according to reports.

Raytheon’s Operational Control Network is being built to take advantage of the latest technology updates in GPS III satellites. Amongst other things, the company is “integrating robust cyber protections into OCX”, OCX being the Raytheon codename for its new operational control system.

Broadly speaking, in Raytheon’s words, the ground system, which is the command-and-control system for the entire GPS satellite constellation, is the “brain of the entire GPS system”. OCX will consist of 20 ground stations and antennas across the world and, along with the GPS III satellites as built by Lockheed Martin, has been in development since 2008. The open system, which contains modular sub-systems, is not just backwards-compatible; it will also have the ability to integrate new capabilities and signals as they become available.

All is not going well, however. Bloomberg News reports that the system, which was meant to have gone live in October 2016, will instead go live in 2022 at a cost of at least $6bn.

The first GPS III satellite will not be launched until next year, according to Bloomberg. A USAF spokeswoman told the newswire: “The Air Force has implemented improvements across the program, including at Raytheon. These include development of contingency efforts and modernizing software development processes. GPS is important to every American, and the Air Force must get it right.”

It is not just Americans who depend on GPS: most of the world depends on GPS-based navigational technology, and a couple of British government quangos estimated earlier this year that a GPS outage would knock a £1bn hole into the economy for every day the outage went on. The European Union has its own GPS-a-like, Galileo, to ensure that Americans can’t bring the bloc to a literal standstill by throwing a switch. For similar reasons, Russia and China have built their own alternatives. The generic term for all of these is GNSS - global navigational satellite systems.

A GPS III satellite launch was delayed by three months last year thanks to the use of capacitors in the satellite’s “navigational payload” that had not undergone the required testing, according to Space News. This may have been bad news for SpaceX, which scooped a contract to launch GPS III satellites earlier in 2016.

An explanation of the GPS satellites’ “generations” can be found on the official US government GPS website. ®

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