AFRL Mulls Experimental Navigation Satellite Follow-On Production

An artist's concept of the NTS-3 satellite.
Credit: AFRL

Additional production units of an experimental satellite system focused on future precision navigation and timing technology (PNT) could be purchased by the Air Force Research Laboratory in a year, officials said Sept. 16. 

The potential follow-on order is one of three options under consideration for the Navigation Technology Satellite Program (NTS)-3, said Col. Eric Felt, director of AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico.  

The NTS-3 program seeks to deploy satellites with a software-defined radio antenna that can broadcast a PNT signal to military systems within the Earth’s atmosphere. The signals would augment the PNT data already provided by the GPS constellation, but the NTS-3’s software defined antenna should be more resistant to attempts by enemies to jam or spoof the comparatively weak and nonsecure GPS signal. 

Other options for following up the NTS-3 program include augmenting future GPS satellites or other spacecraft with software-defined radios. 

AFRL launched an 18-month study of three options about six months ago, Felt said. A final recommendation is scheduled to be presented to Will Roper, the Air Force assistant secretary for acquisition, technology and logistics, in about a year, he added. 

Meanwhile, AFRL plans to augment the experimental data from a planned one-year experiment with flight test data within the atmosphere of the new software-defined radio hardware, said Chris Ristich, director of AFRL’s Transformational Capabilities Office.

Steve Trimble

Steve covers military aviation, missiles and space for the Aviation Week Network, based in Washington DC.