According to a report on the C4ISRNET website on July 16, 2021, the U.S. Space Force announced that it has achieved operational control of the fifth GPS III satellite, completing the baseline constellation required for global coverage with more reliable positioning, navigation and timing (PNT) signals.
This latest generation of GPS III satellites with a more precise system is one of 24 GPS payloads in orbit capable of using a new type of military PNT signal, the M-code. While a lot of work needs to be done to achieve everyday use of M-codes, the July 14, 2021 announcement indicates that the baseline for the space segment has been completed, and of course more GPS III satellites will be ushered in in the future.
Michael Schriever, Commander of the 2nd Space Operations Squadron, who was responsible for the operational acceptance of the fifth GPS III satellite, said, “This new block III satellite has achieved worldwide (M-code) coverage and is now available globally based on interface compliance requirements. Broadcast military signals within range.”
Compared to other GPS satellites still in operation, GPS III satellites are more secure and have a major upgrade: the new version is 3 times more accurate, 8 times more immune to jamming, and has improved civilian signals.
To gain widespread access to M-codes, the U.S. Space Force is working to develop and field receivers that can take advantage of this new jam-resistant signal, while new GPS ground systems have suffered years of delays. The U.S. Space Force announced in December 2020 that it had accepted an interim solution that would enable a “limited version” of a signal.
U.S. Space Force officials praised the new addition to the constellation of advanced satellites. The 2nd Space Operations Squadron received operational acceptance on June 29, 2021. “This satellite provides the capabilities needed to protect U.S. interests in space, from space to space, and to enable joint ground and space operations, and must continue to be enabled by new technologies,” said Lt. Gen. Stephen Whiting, head of Space Combat Command. Modernize existing space architectures so that warfighters have uninterrupted access to the information they need, when they need it.”
The fifth GPS III satellite was launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on June 18, 2021, just seven months after the launch of the fourth GPS III satellite.