The next generation of GPS satellites is getting closer to deployment: a prototype arrived at Lockheed Martin in Colorado on Monday for final assembly and testing. Although this particular satellite won't ever be deployed, a model scheduled for a May 2014 launch should arrive at Lockheed next year to be similarly assembled and tested under extreme space-like temperatures before going into orbit. We're guessing each satellite is checked prior to launch because sending a repairman to space is extremely expensive.
Overall, the Pentagon plans to buy 32 of the new satellites as part of a $5.5 billion upgrade of the GPS system for both military and civilian use. The "Block III" satellites improve over the current Block II system with an increased lifespan from 12 to 15 years, improved upgradeability, and a more powerful signal that's more difficult to jam and easier to lock onto. In addition, the satellites will support the new L1C signal, a multi-national common civilian frequency that should allow using foreign satellites and improve location accuracy to within three feet from the current ten when combined with other signals. When the system is deployed, that pinpoint accuracy should all but remove the challenge from geocaching. GPS.gov says 24 Block III satellites should be operational by 2021, although they could become usable with as few as 18 in orbit.