The April 12th edition of Aviation Week & Space Technology has an outstanding package of stories on military and commercial space, but one in particular I want to note is Amy Butler's article on GPS IIF. As Amy notes, the precision navigation and timing data provided by the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System (GPS) have become much like the electrical grid or even the Internet anymore: the data are woven into the fabric of modern civilization and unfathomable to live without. And that is why any hiccup in GPS, real or imagined, gains immediate public attention these days when otherwise the average person on the street may not be able to name another satellite system.
With failure not an option, the armed service has implemented a long list of lessons from the troubled effort to field GPS IIF satellites—which will begin launching this spring—into a new program now underway to develop the next-generation system called GPS III. Moreover, while they eagerly await its upgraded capability, government officials are happy to leave behind the practices of IIF and take up a new way of buying and developing the next generation of GPS satellites.
In fact, the new procurement strategy makes the GPS III unique among recent military space programs because it will actually require a manufacturing line. Most military satellite programs are procured at such low numbers that a true manufacturing line is not needed and thus the opportunity to achieve production efficiencies is lost. Also, the Air Force retains the right to recompete future GPS III blocks if Lockheed Martin fails to perform. But the intention is to maintain a long-term relationship on GPS III for stability.
To learn more about the lessons learned, and how thewy will be applied in future federal acquisitions, check out the article on the Aviation Week Intelligence Network.