First GPS III satellite successfully launched

December 27, 2018  - By
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After several delays, the first GPS III satellite has successfully deployed from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:51 a.m. EST on Dec. 23. The satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, will serve in space for 15 years.

Ten days following the launch, the satellite will circularize its orbit at an altitude of 12,550 miles to begin a period of checkout and testing that could last up to 18 months, before entering service in the GPS constellation providing navigation and timing signals worldwide.

The satellite, known as GPS III SV01 and nicknamed “Vespucci” after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, is the first in a new generation of GPS navigation stations designed with improved services and longer lifetimes to ensure the U.S. military-run network remains available to troops, pilots, sailors and the public for decades to come.

“Launch is always a monumental event, and especially so since this is the first GPS satellite of its generation launched on SpaceX’s first national security space mission,” said Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center and the Air Force’s program executive officer for space. “As more GPS III satellites join the constellation, it will bring better service at a lower cost to a technology that is now fully woven into the fabric of any modern civilization.”

Ground System

The U.S. Air Force used Raytheon Company’s GPS Next-Generation Operational Control System, known as GPS OCX, to support the launch. Following launch, GPS OCX will maneuver the GPS III satellite into its final orbit, a process that takes the ground control system 10 days to accomplish.

Ground antenna at Schriever Air Force Base, home of the 50th Space Wing. (Photo: Raytheon)

Ground antenna at Schriever Air Force Base, home of the 50th Space Wing. (Photo: Raytheon)

“The GPS OCX Block 0 launch and checkout system is foundational to the improved precision, navigation and timing of the entire constellation,” said Dave Wajsgras, president of Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services. “And we’ll all benefit from the system’s unprecedented level of cybersecurity protections.”

The fully modernized GPS OCX Block 0 launch and checkout system will support the launch of future GPS III satellites, enabling the introduction of a new civil signal, enhanced military signals, and anti-jam capabilities.

The ground system has achieved the highest level of cybersecurity protections of any Department of Defense space system, and its open architecture allows it to integrate new capabilities and signals as they become available, ensuring continued protection against future cyber threats.

In addition to GPS OCX’s role, RGNext, a joint venture between Raytheon and General Dynamics IT, provided operational launch support to ensure the safe launch of the Falcon 9 rocket that was carrying the GPS III satellite. RGNext operates the launch range on behalf of the U.S. Air Force, providing maintenance, range safety, weather monitoring, communication and surveillance support for all launches conducted by defense, civil and commercial companies at the range.

After several delays, the first GPS III satellite has successfully deployed from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:51 a.m. EST on Dec. 23. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

After several delays, the first GPS III satellite has successfully deployed from the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:51 a.m. EST on Dec. 23. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket orbited the first GPS III satellite on Dec. 23, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket orbited the first GPS III satellite on Dec. 23, 2018. (Photo: SpaceX)

About the Author:


Allison Barwacz is the digital media manager for North Coast Media (NCM). She completed her undergraduate degree at Ohio University where she received a Bachelor of Science in magazine journalism from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She works across a number of digital platforms, which include creating e-newsletters, writing articles and posting across social media sites. She also creates content for NCM's Pit & Quarry magazine, Portable Plants magazine and Geospatial Solutions. Her understanding of the ever-changing digital media world allows her to quickly grasp what a target audience desires and create content that is appealing and relevant for any client across any platform.

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