SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Launches U.S. Air Force’s First GPS III Satellite into Orbit

The U.S. Air Force’s first GPS III satellite was successfully launched into orbit abroad SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 8:51 a.m. EST (1351 GMT) on Dec. 23.

The spacecraft, dubbed “Vespucci,” was deployed into medium Earth orbit about 1 hour and 56 minutes after the liftoff. The Falcon 9 rocket was flown in expendable configuration and due to this SpaceX did not attempt to land the rocket’s first stage after launch. Full performance of Falcon 9 was required to place the satellite in medium Earth orbit.

The launching came five days late because of a last-minute problem with first stage propellant temperatures Tuesday and a stormy weather Thursday, and high winds forced another 24-hour delay Saturday.

The Lockheed Martin-built GPS III SV01 is the first of an entirely new design of GPS satellite which will help the Air Force modernize the current GPS constellation with new technology and advanced capabilities. GPS III has three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities.

Spacecraft life will extend to 15 years, 25 percent longer than any of the GPS satellites on-orbit today. GPS III’s new L1C civil signal also will make it the first GPS satellite broadcasting a compatible signal with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Galileo, improving connectivity for civilian users.

Lockheed Martin developed GPS III and manufactured GPS III SV01 at its advanced $128-million GPS III Processing Facility near Denver. In September 2017, the Air Force declared the satellite “Available for Launch”(AFL) and had the company place it into storage. Last Summer the Air Force “called up” the satellite for launch and Lockheed Martin delivered it to Florida on August 20. The Air Force nicknamed the satellite “Vespucci” after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

GPS III SV01 is the first of 10 GPS III satellites originally ordered by the Air Force. GPS III SV03-08 are now in various stages of assembly and test. In August, the Air Force declared the second GPS III “AFL” and, in November, called GPS III SV02 up for 2019 launch.

In September, the Air Force selected Lockheed Martin for the GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) program, an estimated $7.2 billion opportunity to build up to 22 additional GPS IIIF satellites with additional capabilities. GPS IIIF builds off Lockheed Martin’s existing modular GPS III, which was designed to evolve with new technology and changing mission needs. On Sept. 26, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.4 billion contract for support to start up the program and to contract the 11th and 12th GPS III satellite.

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