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Shorten the lives of GPS satellites?

Oct 26, 2017

Lockheed Martin

Usually when you build something, you build it to last as long as possible. The US Air Force may have decided, however, to reverse this approach and may now now be seeking to build GPS satellites with shorter life spans. While this may seem counterintuitive, it does may make sense given how quickly technology changes and how next capabilities and add-ons are proposed for GPS satellites.

As reported by the trade magazine Inside GNSS, U.S. Space Command, which operates GPS, has “reached out to industry late last month asking for feedback on… scaling back the elements that make GPS space vehicle (SVs) the ‘Energizer Bunnies’ of space — the satellites that just go on and on.”

Many GPS satellites have had operational lives long beyond their projected life spans. One Block IIA satellite lasted more than 18 years in orbit.

Making satellite less robust could mean making them smaller and lighter, making them less expensive to launch. And a higher turnover rate could mean that technological changes might be incorporated more quickly into operational satellites.

Still, it seems strange that when tech hardware is actually outlasting its intended life, the Air Force wants to introduce planned obsolescence.    

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