SpaceX Launches Fourth GPS III Satellite for US Space Force
SpaceX launched the fourth Global Positioning System (GPS) III satellite on Thursday evening. A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex (SLC)-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 6:24 p.m. ET, carrying GPS III Space Vehicle 04 (SV04) for the U.S. Space Force. The satellite separated at 1 hour and 29 minutes after launch. This launch took place after a scrub on Oct. 2.
This was the third time a Falcon 9 carried a GPS III satellite into space; SpaceX launched the third GPS III satellite in June, and the first in December 2018.
The first stage booster for SV04 was successfully recovered on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship eight minutes after liftoff. SpaceX will actually refly this booster on the fifth GPS III launch, which will mark the first National Security Space Launch (NSSL) on reflown hardware.
This follows an agreement between the Space Force and SpaceX announced in September for SpaceX to reuse Falcon 9 boosters for upcoming GPS III launches. The first refly on the GPS III-SV05 launch will be pushed from January to next summer to allow time for reuse validation activities. Space and Missile Systems Center’s (SMC) Launch Enterprise has agreed to reuse Falcon boosters for GPS III-SV05 and GPS III-SV06, both of which can also be recovered.
Thursday’s launch was the second NSSL mission in which SpaceX recovered the booster post-launch after SpaceX successfully recovered the booster for the SV03 launch in June.
The Lockheed Martin-built satellite will augment the current GPS constellation of 31 operational spacecraft. GPS satellites operate in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) and provide Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services for more than four billion users worldwide.
“The GPS III program office in partnership with our contract teammates continue to push the envelope on the capabilities they deliver to users, both civil and military around the globe. Our latest GPS III satellites’ nearly 70% digital payload provides the U. S. Space Force with greater operational flexibility and cutting edge capabilities while continuing to support legacy users,” Cordell DeLaPena, U.S. Air Force program executive officer for SMC’s Space Production Corps commented in a news release.
Lockheed Martin is continuing production on the rest of the GPS III satellites. Space Vehicle 5 is complete and have been declared available for launch by the Space Force, while SV-06, SV-07 and SV-08 are completely assembled on the production floor and are currently going through post assembly and environmental testing, Tonya Ladwig, acting vice president of Navigation Systems Division, said in a Sept. 25 media briefing. SV-09 and SV-10 are currently in component build-up, she added.
Lockheed Martin is also under contract to build up to 22 additional GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) satellites, which will add additional technology and advanced capabilities to this warfighting system.