Unbelievable Accuracy: GPS III

Since its development in the 1960s, Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation has become an essential tool for everything from military operations to the family road trip.

GPS is found everywhere, but few people understand it. When most people hear GPS, they think of their handheld device – they don’t always realize that every GPS device determines its precise position, navigation and timing information by receiving signals from a constellation of 24 or more satellites orbiting the earth 20,000 kilometers away. Without satellites, there would be no GPS devices.

Today’s Satellites

The first GPS satellites were initially launched for the U.S. Department of Defense in 1978, but over the years many organizations have played a role in their refinement. Lockheed Martin designed and built 21 GPS IIR satellites for the Air Force and subsequently modernized eight of those spacecraft, designated GPS IIR-M. The fleet of Lockheed Martin-built GPS IIR and IIR-M satellites makes up the majority of the operational GPS constellation we get our signals from today.

While GPS has become completely woven into the fabric of modern day civilization, users are demanding even better service. The dreaded “searching for signal” message is the bane of anyone circling the streets trying to get to that restaurant they can’t seem to find. Headaches are compounded for users deep in mountainous or forested regions who can’t seem to get a GPS signal.  Most of all, accidental or malicious GPS jamming continues to jeopardize military missions. 

GPS III Non-Flight Satellite Testbed

The Next Generation

With GPS III, the next generation of GPS satellites being designed and built by Lockheed Martin, signals will be three times more accurate than the current generation.  What does that mean for users? Better accuracy anywhere in the world. For military users, the signals will be up to eight times more powerful, improving jamming resistance and availability for critical missions worldwide.

The new satellites will also be compatible with international global navigation satellite systems, which will allow users the ability to receive signals from any country’s satellites, maximizing their chances of receiving a strong and accurate signal, whether in a natural valley or an urban canyon.

GPS III will also boast a 15 year design life, twice as long as some of the current GPS satellites. They can even be launched two at once, making them less expensive to launch and maintain.

Perhaps most important, GPS III satellites will be harder to jam—either by accidental transmissions or by enemies. This gives military users assured access to GPS when and where it matter most.

The bottom line? Improved safety, signal integrity and unbelievable accuracy. “GPS has become essential to almost all aspects of modern life” said Lockheed Martin’s GPS III program manager Keoki Jackson. “GPS III will ensure the availability of this critical utility with enhanced performance to billions of users worldwide for decades to come.”

Sources and Additional Reading

  • Franceschi-Biccierai, Lorenzo. “New Satellites Could Make GPS Harder to Jam,”http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2012/07/new-gps-sats/, accessed July 26, 2012.
  • Friedman, Michael. Interview by The History Factory. July 19, 2012.
  • Lockheed Martin. “GPS III: The Next Generation Global Positioning System.” 2011.