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A rendering portrays Lockheed Martin's GPS III satellite on orbit for the Air Force. Illustration courtesy of Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin’s first on-orbit GPS III satellite on Oct. 21 successfully connected to its upgraded operational control system, known as the Contingency Operations Program (COps), according to the Air Force and the company. 

The initial GPS III satellite launched into space in December 2018, after which Lockheed continued work to mature COps and begin testing it in real-life circumstances. COps will command and control the improved GPS III satellites and their older counterparts until Raytheon’s Next-Generation Operational Control System comes online in the next few years.

“The GPS III COps program achieved several successes in recent months,” the Air Force said in an Oct. 22 release. “First, the program completed final ground control system software testing and verification in May 2019. This was followed by delivery to sustainment and final system test completion in June 2019.” 

USAF then green-lighted COps’s installation at Schriever AFB, Colo., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif. 

This month, Air Force Space Command approved the start of a trial period that includes testing how COps works with the live GPS III satellite. That process “allows the program office to conduct developmental and operational testing needed to thoroughly verify requirements and functionality of the satellite,” according to the Air Force.

If the tests are successful, the service plans to operationally accept the GPS III system in December, and to do the same for COps in April 2020.