First Pentagon navigational satellite in 50 years just completed testing

Navigation Technology Satellite-3 is the United States Department of Defense's first experimental navigational satellite since the 1970s.
Christopher McFadden
NTS-3 at The Benefield Anechoic Facility, Edwards Air Force Base.

US Space Force

The United States Space Force has just completed tests of the Department of Defense's (DoD) first experimental navigation satellite in over 50 years. Called Navigation Technology Satellite-3 (NTS-3), it is set to be launched later this year, decades after its predecessors, NTS-1 and NTS-2, were launched in the 1970s, SpaceForce reported.

The NTS-3 satellite, created by L3Harris Technologies, has successfully undergone testing at California's Edwards Air Force Base, specifically at the Benefield Anechoic Facility (BAF). This specialized facility allowed technicians to thoroughly test the satellite's systems without causing any interference to nearby air, auto, and GPS signals.

The NTS-3 satellite boasts state-of-the-art technology specifically developed to counter the growing risks posed to current satellite-navigation constellations. As per the U.S. Space Force's official statement, innovative and robust methods must be implemented to enhance the GPS's capabilities and ensure uninterrupted access for users.

Furthermore, the new satellite will undergo testing of advanced technologies that enable GPS connectivity even in challenging military conflict zones.

A joint effort between the US Air Force, Air Force Research Lab, Space Force, and NASA

NTS-3 is going to "help with all of our GPS systems," Amarachi Egbuziem-Ciolkosz, an engineer with the 772nd Test Squadron, said in the press release. "It's probably going to affect so many lives, not just military but commercial alike," they added. The BAF is the biggest anechoic testing site globally, and it recently conducted its first satellite test in decades.

"It is a quiet enough chamber that protects aircraft and other GPS users outside of the facility," NTS-3 program manager Ariel Biersgreen said in the same statement. "We needed to have a shielded area large enough to keep the energy of the testing inside the facility. Across the board, the BAF fit the bill in a way no other facility in the United States really could," it adds.  

"Whether it be airline schedules, takeoffs and landings at airports, or military operations, NTS-3 is taking this further because we are [demonstrating] advanced signals and signal flexibility," added NTS-3 chief engineer Thomas Roberts. "Our ability to get that job done depends on the success of this testing facility," he said.

NTS-3 will operate in a near-geosynchronous orbit for roughly one year

The launch of NTS-3 is scheduled for later this year. But before that, the satellite must pass thermal vacuum tests at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico.

This rigorous testing will simulate the harsh conditions of space to ensure that NTS-3 performs as expected once it's in orbit. Assuming all goes well, NTS-3 will operate in a near-geosynchronous orbit for roughly one year.

As also stated in the press release, the recent testing at BAF was a joint effort between the US Air Force, Air Force Research Lab, Space Force, and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. All parties played vital roles in successfully testing the NTS-3 satellite, marking a historic achievement.

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