The first new GPS III satellite for the US Air Force, already over two years behind schedule, missed a revised delivery date in August and may struggle to meet a new December deadline. The cause of the delay is related to the lack of testing authentication for some of the electronic components.
Testing of the part, a ceramic capacitor, should have been completed by Lockheed Martin about five years ago, including evaluating how long it will operate without failing, said Colonel Steve Whitney, program manager for the Global Positioning Satellite program for the USAF in an emailed statement.
About 600 of these capacitors are on the first satellite, which has an overall cost of about US$529m. Capacitor problems in satellites two through seven, which are still under construction, have highlighted the importance of these components for the system and delayed the delivery of the satellite payloads.
GPS III satellites are supposed to provide increased navigational accuracy and a signal that will be compatible with the European satellite systems being developed now. The new GPS III standards will also have improved security against cyberattacks.
The capacitor that’s now being tested “is a critical part in a series of circuit cards that take higher-voltage power” from the system and reduce it for a particular subsystem, the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center said in an email.
Lockheed spokesman Chip Eschenfelder said in an emailed statement that “during our rigorous navigation payload testing, we discovered a capacitor type on the payload that had not been properly qualified per the program’s approved parts control plan. Upon discovering the issue, we took immediate corrective action with the payload provider to qualify the capacitor.” Lockheed Martin “is responsible for maintaining oversight of its subcontractors,” he said.
Whitney’s statement said, “We asked Lockheed to go through the entire spacecraft design and verify that every single part and every single design element, every single qualification, was completed, and they are in the process of doing that.”