Rockwell snares $1.3B GPS satellite contract

The Air Force last week ensured the viability of the Global Positioning System well into the next century by awarding Rockwell a $1.3 billion contract for 33 improved GPS satellites.

Donald Beall, Rockwell's chairman and chief executive officer, called the award "a significant milestone" for the company, which built the first 11 developmental GPS satellites in 1974.

The contract also calls for Rockwell to upgrade the GPS ground control segment software, a task that will be handled by Computer Sciences Corp. CSC, which Rockwell called its "principal team member," will also become the GPS operations support control contractor, a job now performed by Loral Federal Systems under a previous contract.

Van Honeycutt, president of CSC, said his company will design, produce and integrate hardware and software changes into the GPS Control System, headquartered at Falcon Air Force Base, Colo. The ground control system also includes five monitor stations in several locations throughout the world. Honeycutt valued CSC's portion of the GPS contract at $75 million. CSC teammates on the GPS project include AlliedSignal Technical Services and OAO Corp.

CSC's Systems Science Division in Calverton, Md., will handle the GPS work, with engineers and scientists also assigned to various Rockwell facilities.

Working Through to 2012

The GPS Block IIF contract calls for Rockwell to initially build six satellites, each with an on-orbit life of 15 years --twice that of the original GPS birds. The first Block IIF spacecraft is due for launch in 2001. If the Air Force exercises all its options, Rockwell will build a total of 33 satellites through the year 2012.

Rockwell also holds the $150 million Precision Lightweight GPS Ground Receiver contract to supply rugged, handheld receivers to all three services and has shipped 6,800 PLGRs to U.S. forces in Bosnia.

The new GPS satellites will help fulfill a recent commitment made by the White House to continue to provide GPS signals to the world "free of direct user fees, for peaceful, civil, commercial and scientific users...."

In March Vice President Gore announced a new GPS policy under which the Pentagon will discontinue the use of selective availability, an intentional degradation of the accuracy provided to civil users to 100 meters from the 10 meters or better available to military users.

Developed by the Pentagon, GPS has been adopted as a precision location and mapping tool by millions of civilian and commercial users worldwide, including the Federal Aviation Administration, which plans to use GPS as the core of its next-generation air traffic control system.

The new GPS satellites will incorporate a second civil-frequency package that should improve accuracy for nonmilitary users, according to Richard Langley, a professor of geodesy who specializes in GPS applications at the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada.

Langley said this second frequency will allow users to correct for delays caused by the ionosphere, a situation that grows more vexing in times of high sunspot activity. This ionospheric delay does not unduly impact such casual GPS users as hikers but does skew measurements in more exacting applications, such as surveying, Langley said.

Civil users will have to buy new receivers capable of picking up the second frequency, Langley added.

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