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Peterson Space Observer

Space Force ‘operationally accepts’ fourth GPS III satellite in record time

By TSgt Michael Wykes | Peterson-Schriever Garrison Public Affairs

Peterson-Schriever Garrison, Colo. — The U.S. Space Force’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron formally accepted Global Positioning System III Space Vehicle 04 from the spacecraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, in what is referred to as operational acceptance on Dec. 1, 2020. This was done only one month after SpaceX launched the satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Nov. 5, 2020, setting a new record for the USSF due in part to the efforts of the operators who work in the 2 SOPS.

2 SOPS, a component of Space Delta 8 headquartered at Schriever Air Force Base, Colorado, performs the command and control missions for the GPS satellite constellation. The acceptance of this satellite helps 2 SOPS accomplish their mission of providing position, navigation and timing around the globe through an increasingly contested, degraded and operationally limited environment.

The squadron played a huge role in the satellite’s rapid acceptance, as well as its continued day-to-day operations.

“2 SOPS engineers typically begin preparing for acceptance six months prior to the GPS III launch date,” said 1st Lt. Mary McLaughlin, 2 SOPS navigation payload analyst. “This includes implementing operating system updates, pre-launch compatibility testing, powering on the payloads after launch and monitoring the satellite to ensure it is appropriately modeled by our algorithms and producing acceptable signals for users.”

In order to ensure the satellite remains part of a healthy constellation, 2 SOPS operators perform daily contacts to check the health and make updates.

“We upload a fresh navigation message, and dump data that is stored on the satellite,” McLaughlin said. “Operators also monitor the signals broadcasted by the constellation and perform necessary actions to maintain accurate modeling of position and timing.”

Like military aircraft and ships, military spacecraft receive new designators upon operational acceptance. Known as GPS III SVO4 during the acquisitions period, the satellite is now operationally known as SVN-77.

SVN-77 brings a multitude of operational enhancements to the 2 SOPS and Space Delta 8 missions, and was designed to have a more flexible architecture that allows for easier implementation of on-orbit updates.

“Some benefits of SVN-77 are a longer lifespan and more advanced automation,” McLaughlin said. “This enables the satellite to perform immediate safing actions when faults are detected by the software. This allows 2 SOPS to adapt to changing mission requirements efficiently and safely.”

As more satellites are introduced into the constellation, improvements will be seen by users worldwide. The signal produced is more accurate and harder to jam, and a new civil signal that is compatible with international navigation systems will become available.

Captain Collin Dart, 2 SOPS engineering analysis flight commander, reiterated the importance of SVN-77’s operational acceptance, “SVN-77 marks the 23rd vehicle in the GPS constellation that provides M-Code signal across the globe, leaving just one more GPS III vehicle until 2 SOPS and the Space and Missile Systems Center meet the Initial Operational Capability of 24 M-Code capable vehicles in order to provide full global coverage to warfighters and users.”

USSF’s GPS satellites provide services to more than 4 billion military and civilian customers worldwide. Operators from 2 SOPS work to ensure this capability remains a secure, reliable asset to civilian life and military missions across the globe.

Space Force ‘operationally accepts’ fourth GPS III satellite in record time
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