Most of us use GPS every day to get to meetings, find the new restaurant in town, or take a road trip. This same GPS technology also is critical in the air. In fact GPS, and the FAA’s NextGen mandates around GPS, are driving the new airspace today. For example, the FAA mandates that that all aircraft operating in U.S. airspace must be equipped with Automatic Dependent Surveillance–Broadcast (ADS-B) surveillance technology that relies heavily on GPS satellites. This technology, combined with a network of ground stations across the country, “creates a safer, more efficient National Airspace System (NAS).”
Next Generation GPS Brings Greater Accuracy
The first next generation GPS III satellite will be launched later this year, driving considerably more precise GPS for a multitude of applications including aviation. Raytheon’s GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System (GPS OCX), which is in its final software development phase, is a critical component to the launch and control of these satellites, and is key to the effort to modernize America’s GPS system.
“Because GPS OCX can manage nearly twice the satellites of the current system, it will increase signal strength in hard-to-reach areas like dense cities and mountainous terrain,” Bill Sullivan, vice president of Raytheon’s GPS OCX program, explained. “Also, advanced automation will free crews to focus on mission-critical tasks such as updating satellite positions more often.”
Raytheon also is transitioning away from the traditional ‘waterfall’ method of software development to Development Operations (DevOps), which gives the company an automated capability to move faster with higher reliability, Sullivan said.
DevOps has been instrumental in the program’s recent progress, to include the company’s delivery of its GPS OCX launch and checkout system to the U.S. Air Force at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado, keeping the service on track to launch its first, next-gen GPS III satellite into orbit in 2018. Called Block O, the launch and checkout system provides the computing hardware, operations center workstations and mission application software needed to launch and check the condition of current and future GPS satellites.
This progress is crucial, as GPS’s broad use means system security is critical. A system disruption could cause serious financial, societal and national security issues. For example, a cyberattack on GPS potentially could ground aircraft operations and travel.
To protect the system from hackers, Raytheon used robust cyber protections in OCX, securing the system against malicious cyber threats.
Raytheon is implementing 100 percent of Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) 8500.2 “Defense in Depth” information assurance standards without waivers, giving it the highest level of cybersecurity protections of any Department of Defense (DoD) space system. For protection against future cyber threats, the system’s open architecture allows it to integrate new capabilities and signals as they become available.
“We provided the Air Force with a cyber-hardened ground system,” said Sullivan, adding that it’s the first major system to be completely compliant with U.S. Department of Defense instructions on implementing information assurance. “We use GPS in our phones, cars and even watches; a disruption due to hacking would be catastrophic to society in general.”
“GPS OCX will be, without a doubt, the most secure system (of its kind) ever produced not only for the U.S. Air Force, but for the entire nation,” Sullivan said. “We’re making consistent, steady progress, and that’s driving us toward a successful launch this year.”