By Greg Bartlett
On August 17th, the United States Air Force launched its final GPS IIR satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite, built by defense contractor Lockheed Martin, is the last of the IIR-M line of satellites. When Air Force technicians brought the satellite online on September 3rd, it became the 32nd GPS satellite in the United States military’s constellation.
The 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado is the group tasked with running the satellite network that provides data to GPS receivers and GPS tracking systems all over the globe. In recognition of the efforts made by those preparing for the launch, Air Force GPS Wing Commander Col. Dave Madden said, “I salute the entire government-industry GPS IIR-M team for their talent and determination to provide advanced navigation accuracy and reliability for GPS users worldwide.”
First launched in 2005, the Block IIR-M (‘modernized’) satellites broadcast on a higher range of frequencies and include additional capacity for civilian signals. Those using GPS tracking systems on vehicles and household pets, for instance, are actually employing the same technology used to track Predator RQ-1 unmanned aerial vehicles. The upgraded satellites are being launched as part of a program to maintain the viability of the existing GPS constellation. As some older satellites are scheduled to come offline, the Block IIR-Ms will maintain the consistent service necessary to both military and civilian users. The next wave of advanced military GPS satellites are scheduled to launch beginning 2014.
The uses for GPS tracking systems only continue to expand, and new technology developed in both government and private sectors will allow users to explore new applications of these versatile tools.