CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION — Despite a minor pushback of the launch time, SpaceX was able to send off a GPS satellite for the U.S. Space Force on Wednesday morning.

What You Need To Know

  • The GPS 3 SV06 satellite is just sixth of 10

  • 🔻Scroll down to watch the launch🔻

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sent the GPS III Space Vehicle 06 (GPS III SV06) satellite into orbit at 7:24 a.m. EST on Wednesday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

It was originally set to launch at 7:10 a.m. EST, but SpaceX mentioned in a tweet that it would be pushed back to 14 minutes. The company did not give a reason why the liftoff was pushed back. 

If the launch needed to be pushed back even further, the next attempt would have been on Thursday, Jan. 19, a 7:05 a.m. EST.

On Tuesday, the 45th Weather Squadron gave a greater than 90% chance of good liftoff weather.

The first-stage booster, called B1077, has been used only one time before: The NASA-SpaceX Crew-5 mission in October 2022.

It returned to Earth and landed on the droneship A Shortfall of Gravitas.

About the Mission

The GPS III SV06 satellite, built by Lockheed Martin and named Amelia Earhart, was moved from the company’s facility in Colorado and arrived at Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville in October 2022, according to Space Systems Command.

(The latest GPS 3 satellites — SV01-10 series — are named after famous explorers, Lockheed Martin shared.)

On Tuesday, Andre Trotter, the vice president for Navigation Systems at Lockheed Martin, confirmed that all 10 are complete and ready to be launched.

“GPS has become a part of our critical national infrastructure,” Trotter said. “In the United States alone, GPS is estimated to provide more than $300 billion in annual economic benefits, more than $1.4 trillion since GPS’ inception.”

“GPS continues to be a consequential, global vision that enabled freedom and commerce and protect our services,” he added.

The satellite was processed at the Astrotech Space Operations facility in Titusville, where it underwent a final post-ship functional test and was loaded with onboard fuel, before it was finally encapsulated for launch, explained the Space Systems Command.

“SV06 is the latest GPS III satellite shipped to the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and marks a key step in our larger goal of GPS constellation modernization,” said Col. Jung Ha, senior materiel leader of the Space Systems Command’s Military Communication & PNT Directorate’s GPS Space Vehicles Acquisition Delta, in a press release.

“As the fifth GPS III launch campaign with SpaceX, this launch marks the 25th Military-Code satellite introduced to our constellation, providing our satellite operators with highly capable and advanced technology to aide them in their mission,” Ha continued.

Lockheed Martin explained the purpose behind the GPS III satellites:

  • Three times better accuracy

  • Up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities

  • A new L1C civil signal, which is compatible with international global navigation satellite systems, like Europe’s Galileo, to improve civilian user connectivity

  • A modular design that allows new technology and capabilities to be added in the future to better address changing mission needs and emerging threats. 

The GPS III SV06 will join 31 of its companions in an operational constellation, where it will deliver enhanced performance and it will be the sixth of 10 planned GPS III missions.

Of those six, SpaceX launched five of these satellites with United Launch Alliance (ULA) launching GPS III SV02 “Magellan” back on Aug. 22, 2019 aboard its Delta IV Medium+ rocket.

Those watching the GPS III SV06 launch campaign closely may have noticed a common pre-launch element that didn’t happen before Wednesday’s launch: a static fire test of the rocket.

This was the first time that a mission led by Space Systems Command did not require such a test.

“We completed a detailed review of SpaceX’s criteria for eliminating a static fire and as a result, for the first time, we did not require this test for an NSSL mission,” said Dr. Walter Lauderdale, the SSC Falcon division chief and deputy mission director. “We also completed over 300 verification tasks, 171 assessments and evaluated 27 flight risks.

“We worked each of these aspects in parallel with our USSF-67 launch campaign to stay on track for (Wednesday’s) launch schedule for launch less than three days after the success of that Falcon Heavy mission. Our disciplined approach is part of an uncompromising dedication to mission success, executed one launch at a time.”

SpaceX has foregone static first with non-NSSL missions before. Michael Ellis, the director of the National Security Space Launch department at SpaceX, said the company has a “set of criteria that we’ve kind of honed in on and we’ll continue leveraging this in the future and updating as we need.”

Having this option is valuable both to SpaceX and its customers since it can reduce the number of days needed for processing and doesn’t add further wear to the rocket.

What comes next?

Wednesday’s mission was the fourth orbital launch of the year from the U.S., all of which have happened on Florida’s Space Coast and were conducted by SpaceX.

Ellis said they are proud of their prior 173 consecutive successful launches and are aiming to launch 100 times in 2023. Up to five of those would be with a Falcon Heavy and the rest with Falcon 9 rockets.

SpaceX is also in the midst of testing its new Starship/Super Heavy rocket in preparation for its first orbital flight this year. Lauderdale said it’s not one of the launch vehicles that was submitted as an option for some of the NSSL Phase 2 contract orders, but could be added in Phase III.

“It’s kind of too premature to address a future procurement, given we haven’t even seen draft yet, but to think Starship wouldn’t be part of our future, that would be probably a mistake,” Ellis said.

As for the future of the GPS constellation, Trotter said the last four satellites of the GPS III generation are built and ready for launch, with GPS III SV07 “Sally Ride” likely to come up next. It will launch aboard ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Lockheed Martin is already turning its attention to the production of the upcoming GPS III Follow-On (GPS IIIF) satellite program. It was awarded the $7.2 billion contract in 2018 to build 22 satellites.

The GPS IIIF satellites boast the following capabilities:

  • A Regional Military Protection Capability which can provide up to 60 times greater anti-jamming in theater to ensure U.S. and allied forces cannot be denied access to GPS in hostile environments

  • An accuracy-enhancing laser retroreflector array

  • A new search-and-rescue payload

  • A fully digital navigation payload

  • GPS IIIF SV13 and beyond will incorporate the company’s LM2100 Combat Bus™, an enhanced space vehicle that provides even greater resiliency and cyber-hardening against growing threats, as well as improved spacecraft power, propulsion and electronics

  • LM2100 Combat Bus vehicles are also capable of hosting Lockheed Martin’s Augmentation System Port Interface (ASPIN), which would allow for future on-orbit servicing and upgrade opportunities

“As with our domestic endeavors, our international business is characterized by partnership designed to assist communities and small businesses and power our local workforce and further growth in the global supply chain,” Trotter said.

Watch the launch


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