CAPE CANAVERAL SPACE FORCE STATION – Despite a slight delay in launch time, SpaceX was able to send a GPS satellite for the US Space Force on Wednesday morning.

What you need to know

  • The GPS 3 SV06 satellite is only the sixth of 10
  • 🔻Scroll down to watch the launch🔻

To take off!

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 18, 2023

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

It was originally scheduled to launch at 7:10 a.m. EST, but SpaceX mentioned in a tweet that it would be delayed to 14 minutes. The company gave no reason why the launch was delayed.

If the launch had to be delayed even further, the next attempt would have been on Thursday, January 19 at 7:05 a.m. EST.

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

The first stage booster, dubbed B1077, has only been used once before: the NASA-SpaceX Crew-5 mission in October 2022.

Falcon 9’s first stage booster has landed on the A Shortfall of Gravitas droneship

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 18, 2023

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

It’s almost time to roll a rocket!🚀

Less than 24 hours until @SpaceX launches LockheedMartin-built GPS III SV06 satellite!🌎🛰
More than four billion users worldwide rely on GPS, from navigating to the supermarket to supporting military missions.

How do you use GPS? 🤔

— Lockheed Martin Space (@LMSpace) January 17, 2023

About the mission

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

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

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On Tuesday, Andre Trotter, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of navigation systems, confirmed that all 10 are complete and ready to launch.

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

“GPS remains a consistent, global vision that enables freedom and trade and protects our services,” he added.

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

“SV06 is the latest GPS III satellite to be sent to the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and marks an important step in our larger goal of modernizing the GPS constellation,” said Colonel Jung Ha, senior equipment chief of the military communications and PNT Directorate of the Space Systems Command. 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 launched into our constellation, providing our satellite operators with highly capable and advanced technology to assist them in their mission,” continued Ha.

Lockheed Martin explained the purpose behind the GPS III satellites:

  • Three times better accuracy
  • Up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities
  • A new civilian L1C signal, compatible with international global navigation satellite systems, such as Europe’s Galileo, to improve connectivity for civilian users
  • A modular design that allows for the addition of new technology and capabilities in the future to better respond to changing mission needs and emerging threats.

The GPS III SV06 joins 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.

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

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

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

“We have completed a detailed review of the SpaceX criteria for eliminating static fire and as a result, for the first time we do not require this test for an NSSL mission,” said Dr. Walter Lauderdale, head of the SSC Falcon division 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) launch schedule for launch less than three days after the success of that Falcon Heavy mission. Our disciplined approach is part of an uncompromising commitment to mission success, one launch at a time.”

SpaceX has previously specified static first with non-NSSL missions. 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 tightened up and will continue to use and update as we need to.”

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

What comes next?

Wednesday’s mission was the fourth orbital launch of the year from the US, all of which took place off Florida’s Space Coast and were conducted by SpaceX.

Ellis said they are proud of their previous 173 consecutive successful launches and are aiming for 100 launches by 2023. Up to five of those would be with a Falcon Heavy and the rest with Falcon 9 missiles.

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

“It’s a bit premature to go into a future tender as we haven’t even seen the concept yet, but to think that Starship wouldn’t be part of our future would probably be 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 next. It will launch aboard ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Lockheed Martin is already focusing on 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 have the following capabilities:

  • A regional military protection capability that can provide up to 60 times more anti-jamming in theaters to ensure US 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 navigational cargo
  • GPS IIIF SV13 and above will feature the company’s LM2100 Combat Bus™, an enhanced space vehicle that provides even greater resilience and cybersecurity against growing threats, as well as enhanced spacecraft power, propulsion and electronics
  • LM2100 Combat Bus vehicles can also host Lockheed Martin’s Augmentation System Port Interface (ASPIN), which would enable future on-orbit service and upgrade capabilities

“As with our domestic efforts, our international business is characterized by partnerships designed to help communities and small businesses, empower our local workforce and drive continued growth in the global supply chain,” said Trotter.

Watch the launch

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