The U.S. Space Force (USSF) Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC)’s Lockheed Martin-built GPS III SV03 satellite was encapsulated within a SpaceX payload fairing at Astrotech on June 21 in preparation for its upcoming launch on June 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Encapsulation of the satellite within the payload fairing protects the satellite against the impact of dynamic pressure and aerodynamic heating during its harrowing journey through the earth’s atmosphere, and supports the ability to communicate with the satellite until separation from the launch vehicle on-orbit.
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. This pause allowed SMC to design and implement these measures in collaboration with contractor and launch provider partners as well as medical professionals. There were no impacts to the readiness and availability of the GPS constellation, which remains healthy. The impact to cost and launch schedule was minimal.
SpaceX is contracted for the launch of the GPS III SV03 satellite, for which, the company is using its Falcon 9 reusable rocket. The launch will be the second National Security Space Launch (NSSL) mission to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the first NSSL mission where a Launch Service Provider is recovering a booster.
GPS III SV03, named “Columbus” in honor of Christopher Columbus, is now ready to be rolled out to its pad at Space Launch Complex-40, where it will be mated with the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It is scheduled for launch on June 30. The 15-minute launch window opens at 3:55 p.m. EDT.
SV03 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.