• Credit: L3Harris
    Credit: L3Harris

For the first time in nearly 50 years, the U.S. Department of the Air Force (DAF) is preparing to launch an integrated satellite navigation demonstration that will create a tectonic shift in positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) technology.

Just as Navigation Technology Satellite-1 (NTS-1) and NTS-2 served as the foundation for today’s global positioning system (GPS) constellation in the 1970s, NTS-3 is on track to transform U.S. military PNT capabilities and lay the foundation for multilayer PNT resiliency.

The NTS-3 satellite, designed, built and tested by L3Harris, is an experimental platform designed to prove resilient, robust and reprogrammable PNT functionality in space. It’s also the first satellite that can simultaneously broadcast and receive GPS information, which is an essential feature that will allow U.S. forces to operate successfully in GPS-denied environments and areas prone to spoofing.

“If you watch the news today, it’s easy to see that the threats posed by our adversaries are becoming bolder, more frequent and more sophisticated,” said Tara Solorzano, who is an L3Harris Fellow, a title given to the company’s top technical leaders and innovators. “Our goal is to show that NTS-3’s technology will not only address these evolving threats, but it will also provide our warfighters with a responsive and flexible capability to ensure mission success.”

Succeeding in an Increasingly Contested, Congested and Complex Space Domain

Think of NTS-3 as GPS’ next-generation wingman, which will provide U.S. and allied forces with uninterrupted PNT. This technology is designed to defeat the threat that contested, degraded and denied PNT poses to our national security.

Not only does NTS-3 have the ability to focus powerful beams to ground forces, it’s also able to minimize the impacts of GPS jamming through rapidly reprogrammable signal waveforms, frequency agility and increased signal strength. The experimental satellite’s embedded software and firmware is reprogrammable on orbit. When paired with agile and reprogrammable user receivers, this will allow the U.S. Air Force (USAF) and U.S. Space Force (USSF) to react in real time as threats change on the battlefield. Additionally, NTS-3’s enhanced processors can support more complex signals – now and into the future.

NTS-3 is scheduled to launch into space in late 2024 aboard United Launch Alliance’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket. Once in space, NTS-3 will remain in a near-geosynchronous orbit for an inaugural year of testing. The AFRL has already scheduled more than 100 experiments for NTS-3, which will help the USAF and USSF decide on the best ways to use the complementary satellite, ground and user equipment technologies to modernize the military’s PNT architecture.

“We’re incredibly excited about the upcoming launch,” Solorzano said. “Once NTS-3 is in orbit, we’ll be able to prove its performance and showcase the benefits of this game-changing technology. The experiments performed by AFRL will shape the way our military uses this technology to protect our nation’s warfighters.”

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