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Feature Story

The Boeing GPS IIF-3 satellite

ULA

The GPS IIF-3 is being encapsulated in the payload fairing of a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket.

GPS satellite arrives at its destination

The first Global Positioning System satellite was launched in 1978. The most recent one launched October 4. Over the course of those 34 years, the use of GPS for everyday navigation has become commonplace.

While drivers rely on their dashboard screens to arrive at desired destinations in the fastest routes possible, few realize that Boeing is behind the technology powering the GPS.

When a massive Delta IV rocket successfully blasted skyward Thursday morning from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., it hauled a payload into orbit that’s sure to please GPS-reliant people everywhere.

“This satellite joins the other GPS satellites already in use, but this latest technology provides a stronger, more accurate signal that will have a noticeable impact for users.”

That payload, a GPS IIF satellite known as SVN-65, will substantially improve navigation and reliability for all GPS users, whether that means driving a car or flying a Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet.

The third Boeing GPS IIF satellite

Boeing

The third Boeing GPS IIF satellite undergoes pre-launch processing at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

“This satellite joins the other GPS satellites already in use, but this latest technology provides a stronger, more accurate signal that will have a noticeable impact for users,” said Harry Brown Jr., Boeing’s chief engineer for the GPS satellite program.

According to Brown, the stronger signal will help avoid interference common with navigation in urban and rural areas. That’s good news for farmers, who can use the more precise GPS positioning to make the best use of their resources and reap higher crop yields while reducing water and pesticide use.

It also will provide more secure, jam-resistant military signals to aid in all types of missions, including search and rescue. Brown said that one day cars, tractors and planes could be controlled with pinpoint accuracy entirely via the GPS constellation satellites.

Boeing works closely with United Launch Alliance for launch and the U.S. Air Force on deployment and operation of the GPS constellation. The latest launch marks the third IIF satellite to go into service.

A Delta IV rocket takes Boeing's latest GPS IIF satellite into orbit

Boeing

A Delta IV rocket takes Boeing's latest GPS IIF satellite into orbit.

While it might surprise some people, Boeing has long had a significant role in the GPS program. Since 1974, Boeing has served as prime contractor for four GPS satellite programs, and is currently under contract to the Air Force to build 12-next generation GPS Block IIF satellites.

“Working on the GPS is really cool,” Brown said. “I’ve been at Boeing for 29 years, and nothing compares to the feeling of our entire team knowing the impact we have on people’s daily lives.”

Boeing’s GPS satellite is built at the Boeing Satellite Development Center in El Segundo, Calif., the largest satellite factory in the world. More than 50 years in existence, the facility has turned out nearly 300 satellites, ranging from the very first communications satellites to the latest GPS IIF satellite launched this week.