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

The U.S. Space Force’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron formally accepted GPS III Space Vehicle 04 from the spacecraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, in what is referred to as operational acceptance on Dec. 1, 2020. This [acceptance] done only one month after SpaceX launched the satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., Nov. 5, 2020, setting a new record for the USSF, due in part to the efforts of the operators who work in the 2nd SOPS. (U.S. Space Force Courtesy Photo, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs)

The U.S. Space Force’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron formally accepted GPS III Space Vehicle 04 from the spacecraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, in what is referred to as operational acceptance on Dec. 1, 2020. This [acceptance] done only one month after SpaceX launched the satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., Nov. 5, 2020, setting a new record for the USSF, due in part to the efforts of the operators who work in the 2nd SOPS. (U.S. Space Force Courtesy Photo, 45th Space Wing Public Affairs)

SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. --

The U.S. Space Force’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron formally accepted GPS III, Space Vehicle 04 in record time from the spacecraft manufacturer, Lockheed Martin, in what is referred to as operational acceptance on Dec. 1, 2020.

This [acceptance] was done only one month after SpaceX launched the satellite on a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Fla., Nov. 5, 2020, setting a new record for the USSF, due in part to the efforts of the operators who work in the 2nd SOPS.

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

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

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

“The 2nd SOPS engineers typically begin preparing for acceptance six months prior to the GPS III launch date,” said 1st Lt. Mary McLaughlin, 2nd 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, the 2nd 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.

The SVN-77 brings operational enhancements to the 2nd 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 to  when faults are detected by the software. This allows the 2nd 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.

“SVN-77 marks the 23rd vehicle in the GPS constellation that provides M-Code signal across the globe,” Captain Collin Dart, the 2nd SOPS engineering analysis flight commander said. “Leaving just one more GPS III vehicle until 2nd 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.” 

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