SpaceX Launches U.S. Space Force’s Third GPS III Satellite Abroad Falcon 9 Rocket

SpaceX launched the U.S. Space Force’s third Lockheed Martin-built GPS III navigation satellite, GPS III SV03, aboard its Falcon 9 rocket on June 30.

The rocket lifted off at 4:10 p.m. EDT (20:10 UTC) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The spacecraft will deploy approximately 1 hour and 29 minutes after liftoff.

Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Just Read the Instructions” droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean.

This launch is the second National Security Space Launch (NSSL) mission to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the first NSSL mission where a SpaceX is recovering the booster. The company launched the first GPS III satellite on Dec. 23, 2018 and the Falcon 9 rocket was flown in expendable configuration during that mission.

Originally scheduled to launch on April 29, the GPS III-3 mission took a 60-day tactical pause in order to implement new health and safety measures to protect launch and operations crew during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

GPS III SV03, named “Columbus” in honor of Christopher Columbus, will join the current 31-satellite operational constellation to continue to provide the “gold standard” in positioning, navigation, and timing services for more than four billion users worldwide. It is the latest of up to 32 next-generation GPS III/GPS III Follow-On (GPS IIIF) satellites Lockheed Martin has designed and is building to help the Space Force modernize its GPS constellation with new technology and capabilities.

The GPS III satellite family provides new capabilities vital to ensuring the fidelity of the GPS constellation and signal in the contested, degraded and operationally limited environments.

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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