GPS upgrade will add 300 Colo. jobs

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The Global Positioning System is getting an $8 billion upgrade that will create at least 100 new jobs in Colorado this year and about 200 more at the project’s peak.

The project is aimed at improving the accuracy and reliability of GPS, as well as its security.

It will allow users to pinpoint a location within an arm’s length, rather than the margin of error of 20 feet or more today. And the system’s anti-jamming capabilities will be strengthened, making it difficult to infiltrate a system relied up by tens of millions worldwide.

The upgrade is the first for the navigation system, which has become a ubiquitous part of life. Created by the military, it is now mostly used by civilians and corporations.

GPS can be found in cell phones, cars and ATM machines. It can help hikers find their way through the Rocky Mountains, and helps the military target enemy locations. About 1 billion people use GPS technology worldwide.

“It’s the heartbeat of the planet,” said Frank Backes, CEO of Braxton Technologies, which has part of the upgrade job.

Most of the heartbeat’s upgrade, in fact, will be done along Colorado’s Front Range.

“I’d say three-quarters of the work is going to be done here, and three-quarters of the jobs will be here,” said Raymond Gray, senior manager at Raytheon, the primary civilian contractor hired by the Air Force for the upgrade.

“It’s what Raytheon in Colorado is known for,” he said. “So it was somewhat of a natural fit. But getting the contract was a very big deal for the company. It’s really a huge project for us.”

To land the contract, Raytheon created a team that includes Colorado Springs-based Braxton Technologies and Infinity Engineering Systems, as well as Boeing’s Aurora, Boulder and Colorado Springs offices.

ITT’s New Jersey office and the Jet Propulsion Laboratories in Pasadena, Calif., are the only out-of-state companies participating.

Raytheon’s contract is worth $886 million over four years, and, with extensions, could be worth up to $1.5 billion, Gray said. As the primary contractor, Raytheon is the company that will be doing most of the hiring for the project.

GPS is made up of three parts: space satellites, a control segment and a ground segment. Raytheon is working on the ground and control segments – replacing aging equipment throughout the country.

It will be renovating and refitting a ground station in Colorado Springs at Schriever Air Force Base, providing it with new computers and new software.

Braxton is part of the team that will help create the new ground system for the GPS satellite constellation.

The program will “revolutionize GPS operations,” said Jeoren “Dutch” Heuzen, program manager at Braxton.

The new system will focus on both military and civil requirements around the globe, including technology to keep GPS from being jammed.

Braxton has supplied much of the technology used to launch GPS satellites since October 2007.

“We have made this the primary focus of our GPS work for almost a decade and we relish the (upcoming) opportunity,” Heuzen said.

Civilian users won’t see as much difference after the upgrade as those in the military.

“For consumers, it will be a little more accurate, a little more reliable,” Gray said. “The military uses will see a much bigger difference; they’ll be able to use GPS in all kinds of adverse environments.”

The upgrade includes sophisticated anti-jamming technologies that are important for cyber security in war, he said.

GPS technology was created at the Los Angeles Air Force Base in the 1980s. It started with purely military applications, but 97 percent of current users are individuals and corporations.

The first big step in the upgrade took place last week, when Air Force Space Command, based in Colorado Springs, launched a new satellite for the constellation from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The plan is to replace the satellites – there are 30 in all, six of which serve as backups – one at a time over the next decade.

Boeing builds the satellites for the GPS constellations. The company said the newly launched satellite was operating normally and ready for operational testing.

The newest satellite is expected to provide more accurate navigation signals than those of its predecessors. It will also broadcast a new jam-resistant military code signal and a third civil signal.

The system suffered a glitch earlier this year, when new software proved incompatible. About 10,000 military GPS receivers were affected, but the Air Force said the problems were fixed in less than two weeks, and no active combat equipment was involved.