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L3Harris Prepares Next-Generation NTS-3 Satellite for Launch in 2023

Space & Airborne Systems
Apr 17, 2023 | 4 MINUTE Read

For the first time in nearly 50 years, the U.S. Department of the Air Force (DAF) has invested in an integrated satellite navigation demonstration that will create a tectonic shift in PNT technology.

Just as 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 current 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 is 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.”

Latest Updates: Preparing NTS-3 for Launch

In January, the AFRL announced a major program milestone when L3Harris delivered the NTS-3 vehicle to Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico, to prepare the satellite for launch later this year. L3Harris and AFRL will work together to complete space vehicle testing, launch vehicle integration and enterprise integration to ensure compatibility between the control segment, ground receivers and the satellite vehicle itself.

Zoom Out: An Increasingly Contested and Congested Space Domain

The space domain is increasingly contested. Consequentially, there’s an urgent need to demonstrate transformative capabilities to ensure warfighters can operate successfully in GPS-degraded or denied environments. The DAF has prioritized NTS-3 as one of its four Vanguard programs to do exactly that. And who better to lead the design, development, integration and test of a resilient PNT mission solution for the Vanguard program than L3Harris?

L3Harris has been innately involved in more than 70 previous PNT missions, with payloads and components aboard every U.S. GPS satellite in use today. In fact, the company’s domain knowledge spans the entire PNT enterprise – from space systems to ground control segments to user equipment. According to Solorzano, it’s this deep knowledge of the domain, broad PNT mission expertise, close partnership with AFRL and technical know-how that are fueling L3Harris’ speedy delivery of such a transformative satellite experiment.

“L3Harris is proud to lead this historic endeavor that will pave the way for the next generation of space-based PNT capabilities,” Solorzano said. “We have many decades of PNT experience with critical technologies aboard every GPS mission since its inception. This expertise has allowed us to provide a new and versatile PNT capability so quickly and affordably.”

Zoom In: GPS' Next-Generation Wingman

You might be asking yourself what’s so unique and transformational about NTS-3. And that’s a great question.

“Think of NTS-3 as GPS’ next-generation wingman that will provide our forces with uninterrupted PNT,” Solorzano said. “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. For a full run-down of NTS-3’s game-changing capabilities, click here.

What’s Next: Liftoff

Buckle up! AFRL has booked a ticket for NTS-3 aboard USSF-106. It’s scheduled to launch into space in late 2023 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.”

Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited. Public Affairs release approval #AFRL-2023-1568. 

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