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GPS Future and Evolutions

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Title GPS Future and Evolutions
Edited by GMV
Level Basic
Year of Publication 2011
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The GPS is a space-based global navigation satellite system (GNSS) that provides reliable positioning, navigation, and timing services to civilian and military users on a continuous worldwide basis. GPS is a U.S.-owned utility, developed by the U.S. Air Force starting with the program in 1978.

During the 1990s, a lot of civilian and commercial GPS applications appeared, and also other GNSS systems competitive with GPS were envisaged. Taking this into account, the policy of the United States policy is to maintain U.S. leadership in the service, provision, and use of satellite navigation systems. The U.S. government has additional policy goals to meet growing demands by improving the performance of GPS services, and to remain competitive with international satellite navigation systems.[1]

GPS Modernization Program

GPS Modernization

To meet growing demands and stay competitive internationally, the U.S. government is committed to a long-term modernization program that will improve GPS performance, including more robust resistance to interference. The GPS modernization program is an ongoing, multibillion-dollar effort to upgrade the GPS space and control segments with new features to improve GPS performance. These features include new civilian and military signals.[2]

Ending Selective Availability

The first step in GPS modernization took place in May 2000, when President Bill Clinton directed the Department of Defense to turn off the GPS Selective Availability (SA) feature. SA was an intentional degradation of civilian GPS accuracy, implemented on a global basis through the GPS satellites. During the 1990s, civil GPS readings could be incorrect by as much as a football field (100 meters). On the day SA was deactivated, civil GPS accuracy improved tenfold, benefiting civil and commercial users worldwide.[2]

In 2007, the U.S. government announced plans to permanently eliminate SA by building the GPS III satellites without it.[2]

New Civil Signals

The new signals are phasing in incrementally as new GPS satellites are launched to replace older ones. Most of the new signals will be of limited use until they are broadcast from 18 to 24 satellites.[3]

Aimed at improving the performance for civilian users, the GPS is in the process of fielding three new signals designed for civilian use: L2C, L5, and L1C. The legacy civil signal, called L1 C/A or C/A at L1, will continue broadcasting in the future, for a total of four civil GPS signals. Users must upgrade their equipment to benefit from the new signals.

  • L2C (1227.6 MHz): it is the second civilian GPS signal, designed specifically to meet commercial needs. It enables the development of dual-frequency civil GPS receivers to correct the ionospheric group delay. For professional users with existing dual-frequency operations, L2C delivers faster signal acquisition, enhanced reliability, and greater operating range. L2C broadcasts at a higher effective power than the legacy L1 C/A signal, making it easier to receive under trees and even indoors. This signal is available since 2005, with the launch of the first IIR-M satellite[4]. Every GPS satellite launched since then has included an L2C transmitter.
In April 2014, CNAV messages on the L2C signals started to be broadcast. L2C remains in pre-operational status.
  • L5 (1176.45 MHz): L5 is broadcast in a radio band reserved exclusively for aviation safety services. Future aircraft will use L5 in combination with L1 C/A to improve accuracy (via ionospheric correction) and robustness (via signal redundancy). Beyond transportation, L5 will provide users worldwide with the most advanced civilian GPS signal, as it transmits at a higher power than current civil GPS signals, and has a wider bandwidth. Its lower frequency may also enhance reception for indoor users. It will be compatible with other GNSS systems, with the goal to be interoperable as well. This signal is available since the launch of the Block IIF satellites (May 28th 2010).
  • L1C (1575.42 MHz): It has been designed for interoperability with Galileo. It will be backward compatible with the current civil signal on L1, be broadcast at a higher power level, and include advanced design for enhanced performance. The design will improve mobile GPS reception in cities and other challenging environments. Other satellite navigation providers are adopting L1C as a future standard for international interoperability. Japan's Quasi-Zenith Satellite System (QZSS), the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS), and China's BeiDou System all plan to broadcast L1C. The first GPS satellite transmitting L1C signals was launched in December 2018. An enhancement to this L1C signal is being analysed, which is called CHIMERA (Chips Message Robust Authentication). This technique consists on adding encrypted watermarks to the L1C signal that not only let users know when a signal is being spoofed but also makes it possible to authenticate the location of a GPS receiver to another party.

Once L2C and L5 are fully operational, their features will obviate the need for codeless or semi-codeless GPS receivers, which many GPS professionals use today to attain very high accuracy. Such receivers work by exploiting characteristics of the encrypted military P(Y) signal at the L2 frequency to achieve dual-frequency capability. Then, the U.S. government encourages all users of codeless/semi-codeless GPS technology to plan on using the modernized civil signals by December 31, 2020, as P(Y) may change after that date.[5]

In addition to the civil signals, it is planned to include a new military signal, the M-code, in L1 and L2 frequencies[6].

New Control Segment

Regarding the Ground Segment, the new Operational Control Segment (OCX) will replace the current GPS Operational Control System placed at Schriever Air Force Base.[7] The OCX will maintain backwards compatibility with the Block IIR and IIR-M constellation satellites, providing command and control of the new GPS IIF and GPS III families of satellites, and enabling new modernized civil signal capabilities.[7] According to Raytheon[8] the "OCX is the next generation operational gateway service designed to provide secure, accurate and reliable navigation and timing information to effectively support military, commercial and civil users. It will include enhanced space launch support, increased situational awareness for GPS operators and support for future satellite blocks with advanced capabilities such as new signals, NAVWAR capabilities, high-speed cross-links and additional payloads."

With a dedicated classified facility, OCX will support advanced mission planning for the Department of Defense users.[9]Raytheon won the contract to build the Next Generation GPS Control Segment (OCX) on March 2010.[10]

The OCX development is split into three phases[11][12]:

  • Block 0 is the Launch and Control System (LCS) intended to control Launch and Early Orbit (LEO) operations and the on-orbit checkout of all GPS III satellites. OCX Block 0 is a subset of OCX Block 1 providing the hardware, software, and cybersecurity base for Block 1.
  • Block 1 fields the operational capability to control all legacy satellites and civil signals (L1 C/A), military signals (L1P(Y), L2P(Y)) as well as the GPS III satellites and the modernized civil signal (L2C) and the aviation safety-of-flight signal (L5). In addition, Block 1 will field the basic operational capability to control the modernized military signals (L1M and L2M (M-Code)), and the globally compatible signal (L1C). It also fully meets information assurance/cyber defense requirements.
  • Block 2 fields the advanced operational capability to control the advanced features of the modernized military signals (L1M and L2M (M-Code)). Block 2 will be delivered concurrently with Block 1.

New GPS satellites

The GPS constellation is a mix of new and legacy satellites. The new generations, or blocks, of GPS satellites under development as part of the GPS modernization program are the following:[13]

  • GPS Block IIR(M)
The IIR(M) series of satellites are an upgraded version of the IIR series. The "M" in IIR(M) stands for modernized, referring to the new civil and military GPS signals added with this generation of spacecraft. Developed by Lockheed Martin, there are eight IIR(M) satellites: SVN-48 through SVN-50, SVN-52, SVN-53, SVN-55, SVN-57, and SVN-58. The first IIR(M) was launched in September 2005, and the last launch occurred in August 2009. The key improvements of this block are: the inclusion of second civilian GPS signal (L2C) for improved performance in commercial applications, two new military signals providing enhanced military jam-resistance and flexible power levels for military signals.
  • GPS Block IIF
The IIF series expand on the capabilities of the IIR(M) series with the addition of a third civil signal in a frequency protected for safety-of-life transportation. The "F" in IIF stands for follow-on. Compared to previous generations, GPS IIF satellites have a longer life expectancy and a higher accuracy requirement. Each spacecraft uses a mix of rubidium and cesium atomic clocks to keep time within 8 billionths of a second per day. The IIF series will improve the accuracy, signal strength, and quality of GPS. Developed by Boeing, the IIF series includes a total of 12 satellites: SVN-62 through SVN-73. The first IIF satellite was launched in May 2010. On March 25, 2015, the IIF-9 satellite was successfully launched aboard a Delta IV launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Air Force Station in Florida. This satellite, identified by SVN-71 and PRN-26 replaced the SVN-35 operating in the B plane slot 1F[14]. The key improvements of this block are: operational version of the third civilian GPS signal (L5) for transportation safety, 12-year design lifespan and extremely accurate atomic clocks.
In a Notice to NAVSTAR Users (NANU 2015028), the U.S. Air Force announced that the ninth GPS-IIF satellite, SVN-71/PRN-26, launched on March 25, 2015, completed its operational checkout and was set to healthy and usable on Monday (April 20, 2015).[15]
The 10th GPS-IIF satellite, destined for plane C/slot 3 of the GPS constellation, was launched from Cape Canaveral on July 15th, 2015.[16]
After some initial delays, the 11th GPS-IIF satellite, destined for plane E/slot 2 of the GPS constellation, was launched on October 31st, 2015.[17]
The 12th and last GPS-IIF satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral on February 5th, 2016.[18]
  • GPS Block III (Increment IIIA and beyond)
The GPS III series is the future block of GPS satellites (SVN-74 and up). GPS III will provide more powerful signals in addition to enhanced signal reliability, accuracy, and integrity, all of which will support precision, navigation, and timing services. The first set of these satellites, under development by Lockheed Martin, is designated GPS IIIA. The key improvements of GPS IIIA are: fourth civilian GPS signal (L1C) for international interoperability, 15-year design lifespan. The first GPS Block III satellite was launched in December 2018.
GPS IIIF, will deliver GPS III satellites beyond the first ten SVs being delivered by the GPS III program. GPS IIIF SVs (11-32) will introduce new capabilities to meet increased demands of both military and civilian users. They will maintain the technical baseline of GPS III but reducing the overall size, weight, and power required to satisfy the positioning, navigation, timing and Nuclear Detonation Detection System (NDS) mission areas with a redesigned NDS. It also looks to bring aboard new capabilities by hosting a Search and Rescue GPS payload designed to assist with the global search and rescue mission area. It enables precision ranging measurements by hosting a Laser Retro-Reflector array. It will address the consolidation of telemetry, tracking, and commanding frequencies by enabling compliance with the Unified S-Band capabilities. Finally, the program will look to address increased anti-jam capabilities for the military with a Regional Military Protection capability.

Modern technologies

In addition to the specific new features noted above, GPS modernization is introducing modern technologies throughout the space and control segments that will enhance overall performance. For example, legacy computers and communications systems are being replaced with a network-centric architecture, allowing more frequent and precise satellite commands that will improve accuracy for everyone.[2]

Program Schedule

The GPS modernization program involves a series of consecutive satellite acquisitions, including GPS IIR(M), GPS IIF, and GPS III. It also involves improvements to the GPS control segment, including the Architecture Evolution Plan (AEP) and the Advanced Control Segment (OCX). The schedule for the parallel space and control segment upgrades is shown in next figure (the information on the schedule is correct as of May 2012).[2]

GPS Modernization Program Schedule

In April 2015, as a result of a report by the US Government Accountability Office stating that the GPS program was overbudget, the USAF has reduced the funding for the first phase of GPS III from $200 million to $6 million, with the number of selected companies for Phase I to be increased to three, including Lockheed Martin and Exelis. Each company must prove capability to go up to Critical Design Review and produce an average of two satellites per year, featuring “the current GPS III SV01-08 baseline with the addition of redesigned Nuclear Detonation Detection System (NDS), Search and Rescue/GPS (SAR/GPS), and Laser Retroreflector Array (LRA) payloads, Unified S-Band (USB) compliance, Regional Military Protection capability and no changes to the GPS Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) or Military GPS User Equipment (MGUE) interfaces.” The deadline for submitting statements of capability was April 20, with the request for proposals (RFP) for the Phase 1 contracts expected before the end of September and up to three fixed-price, Phase 1 contracts may be awarded by the end of March 2016. The winning companies will have up to 38 months to complete their work. The request for proposals for the production phase is planned for the second quarter of fiscal year 2017 with a final award in the following year. The first satellite delivery is expected for 2023. Also, the flight MDU was delivered to the GPS III factory in March. The formal qualification of the MDU hardware was forecasted for the end of May, with software qualification finished in July. The spacecraft thermal vacuum environmental test with all the integrated flight hardware, including the MDU, is scheduled to occur between June and September 2015.[19]

In May 2015, the US House Appropriations Committee voted to cut the White House request for civil GPS funding and a number of other GPS-related programs, resulting in the reduction of the $27 million request for civil GPS monies to just $10 million. [20]

GPS Future on Interoperability

As new and restored global and regional spacebased navigation systems emerge, interoperability continues to be the key to GNSS future.[21] International cooperation on satellite navigation issues is a priority for the U.S. Government. The U.S. actively engages in: [21]

The main objective of the International Committee on Global Navigation Satellite Systems (ICG) is to ensure Compatibility and Interoperability between the GNSS systems. The ideal interoperability allows navigation with one signal each from four or more systems with no additional receiver cost or complexity.[21] A dedicated ICG Working Group on Interoperability has been created.


This article is mainly based on verbatim paragraphs taken from U.S. governmental web pages. Please see the References section.



  1. ^ Official U.S. Government information about GPS
  2. ^ a b c d e Official U.S. Government information about GPS Modernization
  3. ^ New Signals on gps.gov
  4. ^ GPS Modernization and Program Update, Bernie Gruber
  5. ^ GPS Modernization Fact Sheet
  6. ^ The Modernized L2 Civil Signal, by Richard D. Fontana, Wai Cheung, and Tom Stansell, GPS World September 2001
  7. ^ a b GPS OCX Update
  8. ^ Global Positioning System Next Generation Operational Control System (GPS OCX), press release, Raytheon
  9. ^ A Closer Look at the GPS OCX Contract, InsideGNSS, March/April 2010.
  10. ^ OCX contract awarded
  11. ^ Control Segment, Official U.S. Government information about the Global Positioning System (GPS) and related topics
  12. ^ GPS Program Update to ION GNSS+ 2014, Col Matthew Smitham Deputy Director, GPS Directorate, ION GNSS+ 2014, September 8-12, 2014, Tampa, Florida, USA
  13. ^ Space Segment on GPS.GOV
  14. ^ U.S. Air Force Gets Another GPS Satellite into Space, InsideGNSS, March 25, 2015
  15. ^ Air Force Sets Latest GPS Satellite 'Healthy'
  16. ^ 10th GPS IIF Satellite on Its Way to Orbit
  17. ^ Successful GPS II-F Satellite Launch after Delay Caused by Faulty Ground Equipment
  18. ^ 50th GPS Satellite, Last Block IIF Launches Successfully
  19. ^ Pentagon Slashes Money for GPS III ‘Recompete’
  20. ^ House Lawmakers Cut Civil GPS Funding across the Board
  21. ^ a b c Worldwide GNSS Interoperability, Civil Global Positioning System Service Interface Committee, Alice Wong, Senior Advisor on GNSS, Office of Space and Advanced Technology Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, U.S. Department of State, September 21, 2009