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US Air Force to Test Experimental Navigation Satellite

The US Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) is teaming up with American technology firm L3Harris to test an experimental navigation satellite called the Navigation Technology Satellite – 3 (NTS-3) this summer.

According to a C4ISRNET report, an experimental satellite serves as a “testbed” for future global positioning system (GPS) technology. It could also provide warfighters with advanced position, navigation, and timing data.

The AFRL has designated the NTS-3 as a Vanguard program to make it a high-priority initiative of the US Space Force due to its potential positive impact on military operations.

The upcoming NTS-3 experimentation will reportedly involve receiver equipment. A ground system developed by Parsons will also be used to operate the satellite.

Once in orbit, the experimental satellite will be used to conduct more than 100 tests on different space technologies, including digital signal generators for broadcasting new signals.

‘Hybrid Architecture’

L3Harris explained that the NTS-3 is software-defined to allow the Space Force to reprogram it at the payload level while in orbit.

Because of that feature, the service can use the experimental satellite for GPS signals and then reprogram it to provide secure communications.

“That basically allows the entire satellite to change its mission on orbit,” L3Harris official Bill Gattle said in 2019.

AFRL deputy program manager Joanna Hinks also revealed that the decision to send the NTS-3 on a geosynchronous orbit (GEO) was also a way to test a hybrid positioning, navigation, and timing architecture concept.

“The idea here is that we already understand very well how satellite navigation works in MEO (medium earth orbit),” Hinks said. “So, what we can do with NTS-3 being in GEO is look at how can you use a constellation that is truly a hybrid architecture.”

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