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SpaceX Launches the US Space Force’s Sixth GPS III Satellite

By Rachel Jewett | January 18, 2023

      SpaceX launches GPS III SV06 to orbit. Photo: US Space Force

      SpaceX launched the sixth GPS III satellite for the U.S. Space Force on a Falcon 9 mission early Wednesday morning. The Lockheed Martin-built satellite is part of the military’s work to modernize the fleet of GPS satellites. GPS III SV06 provides three times greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities.

      The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on Jan. 18 at 7:24 a.m. The satellite was delivered to its target orbit, separating from the upper stage about 89 minutes into the launch. 

      It was SpaceX’s second National Security Space Launch (NSSL) in a few days, after a Falcon Heavy launch from the Cape on Jan. 15

      The mission used a previously flown booster, and was only the second NSSL mission to do so. The booster used in this mission previously supported the launch of the Crew-5 mission for NASA, and it was recovered and will be used again. 

      “We’re reaping the benefits of this innovation with every launch. We embraced this concept six years ago, understanding the economic benefits and efficiencies that come with this formula, and now we’re simply executing to a common plan,” said Scott Chappie, Space Systems Command’s mission director. “As we move forward together, we’re methodically expanding reuse for our NSSL missions, to further leverage the benefits for us and our space vehicle teammates.”

      This was the fifth GPS III satellite that SpaceX has launched for the Space Force, following launches in December 2018, June 2020, November 2020, and June 2021

      United Launch Alliance (ULA) will launch the next GPS III satellite  — SV07 — on its Vulcan Centaur rocket per an SSC task order awarded in May 2022

      GPS III SV06 will now join the Space Force’s current GPS constellation of 31 operational spacecraft. Lockheed Martin engineers will perform on-orbit checkout and tests over the next two weeks 

      Lockheed Martin said that GPS III satellites SV07 through SV10 are completed and in storage at the company’s facility, awaiting launch. Lockheed is also under contract to design and build SV11-20, the GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF), which will have an accuracy-enhancing laser retroreflector array, a new search and rescue payload, and a fully digital navigation payload. 

      “Lockheed Martin is incredibly proud to support the Space Force’s GPS team as it continues to add world-class capabilities that underpin U.S. national security with enhanced performance and accuracy,” said Andre Trotter, Lockheed Martin vice president for Navigation Systems. “With the last GPS III satellite complete and ready to launch, production of the first GPS IIIF vehicle is underway.”