Evolution of space: 2nd SOPS celebrates GPS Block III on-orbit test

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jonathan Whitely
  • 50th Space Wing Public Affairs

Lockheed Martin presented the 2nd Space Operations Squadron with a GPS Block III model satellite to celebrate the successful on-orbit testing of the new GPS III satellite at Schriever Air Force Base, July 29.

Staff Sgt. Joseph Wood, 2nd SOPS mission chief, said the model is a physical representation of the modernization underway.

“The GPS III provides improved capabilities over the legacy vehicles,” he said. “The vehicle has some autonomous capability, such as the ability to perform on-board calculations and save itself when it senses an anomaly. It has increased power as well as three times the accuracy and eight times the anti-jam capability.”

Wood said 2nd SOPS has spent the last few months upgrading their hardware and software for the new GPS Block III, and over the next year, they have two major system updates and continuation training for their operators to ensure they are ready for the modernized system.

“GPS has become significantly integrated with technology globally for both armed services and civilians,” he said. “For the military there are a number of uses: force location, navigation, force employment, weapon guidance and communication network timing. On the civilian side, GPS has become integrated into almost every aspect of our life: aviation, search and rescue, banking, drilling and mining, civil navigation, agriculture and wildlife conservation.”

Wood said it is important to constantly evolve the United States’ GPS capability to maintain the gold standard in position, navigation and timing.

“The number of military requests continues to grow,” he said. “Our ability to support these requests gets difficult, so we evolve with the growth of space and cyber space to ensure any request received from deployed members will be completed with the best accuracy possible.”

The 2nd SOPS operates the largest Department of Defense spacecraft constellation using the Master Control Station and a worldwide network of monitor stations and ground antennas.

“It is imperative to stay ahead in the space domain; space is unique because it gives us a global perspective,” he said. “If we fall behind our adversaries, catching up will be difficult.”

Wood said the model was presented to celebrate the completion of on-orbit testing, ensuring the vehicle’s functions performed as designed.

“GPS is essential to more than four billion users across the world, and it’s free of charge,” he said “The 2nd Space Operations Squadron takes that responsibility seriously, our signal can save people’s lives.”

Capt. Kaoru Elliot, 2nd SOPS assistant director of operations, said without partnerships, performing their duties would be more difficult.

“Although our operators and project officers go through extensive training to command and control and manage the satellites and control system, the 2nd SOPS on its own cannot execute its mission,” he said. “Our partners provide the expertise and continuity necessary to ensure the constellation continues to provide the best positioning, navigation and timing service to the world. The times of operating in a vacuum have passed; as warfighters, it is critical that we take advantage of joint, coalition and commercial expertise to provide the best service possible.”

Elliott said it is important to stay at the forefront of the space mission.

“Space is a contested realm,” he said. “The United States has been at the forefront of space activity; however, complacency is a dangerous thing. With the exponential advancement in technology and the pace at which private and foreign entities are able to get into the space domain, it remains critical as ever that we continue to look at innovative ways to stay ahead of the competition and provide our services to the civil and military users. GPS III allows us to do that by modernizing a widely used system to ensure we continue to lead the way.”

The 2nd SOPS works 24/7 to ensure people can use the numerous benefits of GPS, such as navigation and precision timing.

“GPS is critical to 14 out of 16 of the nation’s critical infrastructures,” he said. “It has been estimated that GPS has contributed over $1.4 trillion to the global economy from creation to 2017. With the introduction of the GPS III, the advanced capabilities onboard the satellite will ensure we continue to provide the best for our civilian users and bring new capabilities to warfighters to operate through the contested environment. The 2nd SOPS and GPS are the global gold standard for all Global Navigation Systems.”