Space Segment

The GPS space segment consists of a constellation of satellites transmitting radio signals to users. The United States is committed to maintaining the availability of at least 24 operational GPS satellites, 95% of the time. To ensure this commitment, the Air Force has been flying 31 operational GPS satellites for the past few years.

Constellation Arrangement

GPS satellites fly in medium Earth orbit (MEO) at an altitude of approximately 20,200 km (12,550 miles). Each satellite circles the Earth twice a day.

Graphic showing the six orbital planes of the constellation
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Expandable 24-Slot satellite constellation, as defined in the SPS Performance Standard.

The satellites in the GPS constellation are arranged into six equally-spaced orbital planes surrounding the Earth. Each plane contains four "slots" occupied by baseline satellites. This 24-slot arrangement ensures users can view at least four satellites from virtually any point on the planet.

The Air Force normally flies more than 24 GPS satellites to maintain coverage whenever the baseline satellites are serviced or decommissioned. The extra satellites may increase GPS performance but are not considered part of the core constellation.

In June 2011, the Air Force successfully completed a GPS constellation expansion known as the "Expandable 24" configuration. Three of the 24 slots were expanded, and six satellites were repositioned, so that three of the extra satellites became part of the constellation baseline. As a result, GPS now effectively operates as a 27-slot constellation with improved coverage in most parts of the world. Learn more at AF.mil

Technical details about the orbits, coverage, and performance of the GPS satellite constellation are documented in the GPS Performance Standards. View

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Current and Future Satellite Generations

The GPS constellation is a mix of old and new satellites. The following table summarizes features of the current and future generations of GPS satellites, including Block IIA (2nd generation, "Advanced"), Block IIR ("Replenishment"), Block IIR(M) ("Modernized"), Block IIF ("Follow-on"), and GPS III.

The satellite counts below were current as of June 25, 2014. They do not include the 3-5 decommissioned GPS satellites ("residuals") kept in orbit in case there is a need to reactivate them. For today's operational constellation status, visit the NAVCEN website. Go there

Learn about the GPS modernization program & schedule View full-size images
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Legacy Satellites Modernized Satellites
GPS IIA satellite GPS IIR satellite GPS IIR(M) satellite GPS IIF satellite GPS III satellite
Block IIA Block IIR Block IIR(M) Block IIF GPS III
6
operational
12
operational
7
operational
6
operational
Now in production
  • Coarse Acquisition (C/A) code on L1 frequency for civil users
  • Precise P(Y) code on L1 & L2 frequencies for military users
  • 7.5-year design lifespan
  • Launched in 1990-1997
  • C/A code on L1
  • P(Y) code on L1 & L2
  • On-board clock monitoring
  • 7.5-year design lifespan
  • Launched in 1997-2004
View Air Force fact sheet
  • All legacy signals
  • 2nd civil signal on L2 (L2C)
    Learn more
  • New military M code signals for enhanced jam resistance
  • Flexible power levels for military signals
  • 7.5-year design lifespan
  • Launched in 2005-2009
View Air Force fact sheet
  • All Block IIR(M) signals
  • 3rd civil signal on L5 frequency (L5)
    Learn more
  • Advanced atomic clocks
  • Improved accuracy, signal strength, and quality
  • 12-year design lifespan
  • Launched since 2010
View Air Force fact sheet
  • All Block IIF signals
  • 4th civil signal on L1 (L1C)
    Learn more
  • Enhanced signal reliability, accuracy, and integrity
  • No Selective Availability
    Learn more
  • Satellites 9+: laser reflectors; search & rescue payload
  • 15-year design lifespan
  • Begins launching in 2016
View Air Force fact sheet

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Recent Developments

GPS Block IIF

All 12 satellites in the GPS IIF series have completed production. The Air Force plans to launch the remaining IIF satellites by 2016.

UPDATE On August 1, 2014, the Air Force successfully launched the seventh GPS IIF satellite into orbit. The spacecraft will spend several weeks in check-out before going operational.

The Air Force launched the sixth GPS IIF satellite on May 16, 2014, and set it operational on June 10, 2014.

The Air Force launched the fifth GPS IIF satellite on February 20, 2014, and set it operational on May 30, 2014.

Get more information about the GPS IIF program from the prime contractor (Boeing):

GPS III

On March 31, 2014, the Air Force announced a contract modification for Lockheed Martin to produce the seventh and eighth GPS III satellites. The Air Force previously announced a separate contract modification to purchase long-lead items for those satellites.

The Air Force exercised options for the fifth and sixth GPS III satellites in February and December 2013, and for the third and fourth satellites in January 2012.

Get more information about the GPS III program from the prime contractor (Lockheed Martin):

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