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NTS-3: Transforming PNT for the 21st Century Warfighter

Space & Airborne Systems
Jun 23, 2022 | 4 minute Read

For decades, Hollywood has taught us to believe bigger guns often lead to battles won. Whether it’s a gun, tank, grenade or missile, brute force is usually the right answer when left to the screenwriters. The electronic capabilities real warfighters heavily rely upon — radars, radios and satellites — are typically left behind the scenes, but are becoming increasingly important to the modern battlespace.

The invisible weapon of electronic warfare is an ever-present threat to our armed forces, as PNT is a target for adversaries to disrupt, deny access or spoof U.S. assets with misleading information. These network-centric capabilities rely on GPS signals to support every facet of our country’s military, from combat aircraft, warships and weapons systems to individual soldiers on the ground. The need to safeguard PNT capabilities has never been more pressing.

L3Harris is addressing that need through the Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3) Vanguard program,  scheduled to launch in 2023. The Air Force Research Lab and Space Systems Command will demonstrate innovative technologies designed to defeat the threat that degraded and denied PNT poses to our nation’s security. NTS-3 is the first U.S. integrated satellite navigation experiment in almost 50 years, since NTS-1 and NTS-2 paved the way for the current GPS constellation.

Resilient Space

The advanced experimental satellite will on-orbit test the space, ground-control and user-equipment system segments. This will demonstrate the resiliency of U.S. and allied military PNT capabilities and enhance mission success in contested and denied environments.

As the prime contractor responsible for development, integration and test of the NTS-3 space vehicle, L3Harris anchors its approach in versatility. Not only is the modular NTS-3 payload reprogrammable, but it can be hosted on diverse platforms, in varied orbits and with minimal changes. It extends beyond traditional space-based reprogrammable payloads to enable new techniques to combat evolving threats.

The L3Harris NTS-3 satellite benefits from more than four decades of GPS and space antenna expertise. Its electronically steerable phased-array antenna supports Earth coverage and multiple simultaneous high-power regional military signals broadcast, supporting warfighters on the ground. This allows operation in multiple contested environments, a key to victory against modern threats.

Building on our GPS Legacy

L3Harris payloads and components have been on board every U.S. GPS satellite — supporting more than 70 missions since the 1970s and accumulating more than 900 years on orbit without a mission failure. Previous NTS experiments, NTS-1, which launched in 1974, and NTS-2, which launched in 1977, were precursors to GPS. After almost half a century, NTS-3 will explore what is possible for the future of PNT and how to protect the vital data GPS provides for both military and civilian needs. We must prove resiliency and responsiveness to deal with a wide variety of threats.

The question is how do we do that? One way is the agile waveform platform (AWP), which synchronizes capabilities between the satellite and control segment. The AWP provides the tools to rapidly develop and deploy new waveforms with total flexibility throughout the fully on-orbit reprogrammable satellite navigation lifecycle. The AWP enables new techniques to combat evolving threats.

NTS-3 integrates the modular, scalable and adaptable payload with a commercial-off-the-shelf (CoTS) bus. CoTS technology, industry-standard interfaces and form factors are used wherever possible, focusing new development on true innovations needed for mission success. This approach accelerates schedule, provides cost savings and focuses resources where they will have the most technological impact. NTS-3 was designed to be hosted on alternate platforms in varied orbits with minimal changes.

The bottom line is that the revolutionary tactics, techniques, procedures and ground-breaking performance, which are at the core of accomplishing NTS-3’s vital mission, will pave the way for the next generation of space-based PNT capability. NTS-3 has perhaps one of the most important tasks in today's escalating contested space domain. L3Harris is proud to be part of an effort that will safeguard this crucial military and civilian asset no matter what threats emerge.

Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. Public Affairs release approval # AFRL-2022-2862

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