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GPS celebrates 25th year of operation

The Global Positioning System IIF satellite, developed and built by Boeing, is the next generation of GPS space vehicle. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

The Global Positioning System, better known as GPS, marks its 25th year of operation Apr. 27, 2020.

On this date in 1995, the system reached full operational capability, meaning the system met all performance requirements.  U.S. Air Force Space Command formally announced the milestone three months later.

“This is a major milestone,” Gen. Thomas S. Moorman Jr., former Air Force Vice Chief of Staff, said in 1995. “GPS has become integral to our warfighters and is rapidly becoming a true utility in the civilian community.”

Initially developed for the military to meet a critical need for determining precise location on the battlefield, GPS has also become an integral part of technology affecting the lives of billions of people worldwide.

“The United States Space Force’s continuing objective for the constellation is to ensure GPS remains the Gold Standard for global space-based positioning, navigation and timing,” said Gen. Jay Raymond, USSF Chief of Space Operations, and U.S. Space Command Commander.

Today, the U.S. Space Force operates the GPS satellite constellation as a global utility – always available to everyone, everywhere on Earth.

“GPS is a free for use service provided by the Space Force that enhances everyday lives around the world,” said Brig. Gen. DeAnna Burt, USSF Director of Operations and Communications. “GPS provides the highest accuracy positioning and timing data.  In addition to the essential capabilities it provides for the military, GPS underpins critical financial, transportation and agricultural infrastructure.  It’s always available, whether for an ATM transaction or securing a rideshare.”

Its military capabilities first enhanced combat operations in 1990 and 1991 during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. Allied troops relied heavily on the new GPS signal to navigate the featureless deserts in Kuwait and Iraq.

In the early 2000’s, during Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, GPS contribution to warfighting increased significantly.  For example, the GPS constellation enabled accurate munitions, allowing the delivery of GPS-aided Joint Direct Attack Munitions with pinpoint precision and minimal collateral damage.

Today, in addition to these and other GPS-enabled warfighting capabilities, Airmen conduct resupply missions with battlefield precision airdrops to combat forces with GPS-guided, parachute-delivered equipment pallets known as “Smart Pallets.”

The GPS operational constellation currently has 31 satellites, and the system is continually updated and modernized, making it a resilient system to maintain the signals required for accurate positioning, navigation and timing around the world.

The first satellite of the new GPS III version, called Vespucci, was launched into space Dec. 23, 2018.

The 2nd Space Operations Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., operates GPS. The squadron recently accepted control of the second GPS III satellite, called Magellan, on March 27.

GPS III is meeting users’ emerging needs and responding to tomorrow’s threats with improved safety, signal integrity and accuracy. GPS III satellites are more accurate, have improved anti-jamming capabilities, and have doubled the design life; when compared to previous iterations of GPS. They are also designed to incorporate new technology and changing mission needs,

“The 25th Anniversary is a huge, momentous occasion for us. We take great pride in providing this global utility to the approximately six billion users worldwide,” said Lt. Col. Stephen Toth, 2nd SOPS commander. “Celebrating this anniversary gives us a moment to recognize how far we’ve come, but also to get pumped about what lies ahead for our program and our role in executing that.”


This article was originally published by US Space Force.