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SMC and SpaceX launch third GPS III satellite

June 30, 2020  - By

Update (U.S. Space Force news release): The U.S. Space Force and its mission partners successfully launched the third GPS III satellite at 4:10 p.m. EDT June 30 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The Lockheed Martin-built satellite was carried to orbit aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) Falcon 9 Launch Vehicle.

“Our team is committed to achieving excellence and reaching the Gold Standard of position, navigation, and timing. GPS III satellites will pioneer innovation and I look forward to seeing new technologies developed for the United States Space Force,” said Cordell DeLaPena, program executive officer for SMC’s Space Production Corps. “At SMC, we are proud to deliver our third GPS III satellite and will continue to operate at a high caliber.”

The first-stage booster of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Launch Vehicle was successfully recovered approximately 20 minutes after liftoff by the company’s autonomous spaceport drone ship in the predicted landing area. This launch marks the first NSSL mission where a launch provider has attempted to recovered flight hardware.

“The successful GPS III SV03 launch and recovery serves as another step in our journey with industry partners to create innovative, flexible, and affordable services to meet NSSL mission objectives and propel U.S. dominance in space.” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, Launch Enterprise director. “I’m proud of my team’s 81st successful National Security Space Launch and look forward to our additional National Security Space missions with SpaceX.”

GPS III’s SV03 separated from its upper stage approximately 88 minutes after launch. Engineers and operators at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton facility will now begin on-orbit checkout and tests which are estimated to complete in two weeks. Operational use is expected to begin as early as August 2020.

“The GPS III program continues to build on its successes by delivering advanced capabilities for the United States Space Force, and maintaining the “gold standard” for position, navigation and timing.” said Col. Edward Byrne, Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division chief.


UPDATE: The SpaceX Falcon 9 successfully launched the third GPS III satellite at 4:10 ET. The reusable Stage 1 successfully returned and landed on its launchpad less than nine minutes after launch.

Screenshot: SpaceX live feed of launch

Screenshot: SpaceX live feed of launch

SpaceX live feed show Stage 1 returning to landing pad at sea. (Screenshot: Space X)

SpaceX live feed show Stage 1 returning to landing pad at sea. (Screenshot: Space X)


The U.S. Space Force’s newest Global Positioning System (GPS) III satellite, Space Vehicle 03 (SV03), rolled out to Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex-40 launch pad a during the overnight hours on June 27 and 28, ready for launch June 30 at 3:55 p.m. Eastern time.

The Lockheed Martin-built GPS III SV03 is scheduled to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. GPS III SV03 will be the third USSF mission launch, the second National Security Space launch (NSSL) mission to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, and the first NSSL mission where a launch service provider will be attempting to recover the booster.

The launch window opens at 3:55 p.m. EDT and will remain open for 15 minutes. A live-feed will begin 20 minutes prior to the launch, concluding approximately 45 minutes afterward. A simulcast of the broadcast can be viewed at www.spacex.com.

“The NSSL program’s number one priority is to achieve mission success on each and every National Security Space launch,” said Col. Robert Bongiovi, Launch Enterprise director. “We also strive to procure affordable launch services that maintain assured access to space for the Nation. Our goal with GPS III SV03 was to maintain our mission assurance record, while exploring unique cost saving opportunities like recovering a booster to deliver the capabilities our warfighters demand.”

“The GPS III program brings a new standard of excellence for the entire space community. Our production team and contract partners have developed an indispensable tool that is available to military and civil users around the world.” said Cordell DeLaPena, program executive officer for SMC’s Space Production Corps. “Our team will continue to advance the launch campaign for the remaining space vehicles and I anticipate the successful launch of SV03 on the Falcon 9.”

Originally scheduled to launch on April 29, the GPS III-3 mission took a 60-day tactical pause in order to implement new health and safety measures to protect launch and operations crew during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. This pause allowed SMC to design and implement these measures in collaboration with contractor and launch provider partners as well as medical professionals. The tactical pause resulted in no impact to the readiness and availability of the GPS constellation, which remains in strong health. There were minimal impacts to cost and schedule due to the pause.

GPS III SV03 will be launched to augment the current GPS constellation comprised of 31 operational spacecraft. GPS satellites operate in Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) at an altitude of approximately 20,200 km (12,550 miles) in six orbital planes. Each satellite circles the earth twice per day.

GPS is the premier space-based provider of positioning, navigation, and timing services for more than four billion users worldwide. This latest generation of GPS satellite boasts a 15-year design life — 25 percent longer than the last generation of GPS satellites on-orbit. GPS III brings new capabilities to users such as the new L1C civilian signal, which opens the window for future interoperability with international satellite navigation systems.

“Our space systems division is filled with exceptional, highly talented team members focused on delivering the next generation of GPS satellites. They are extremely motivated and resourceful, and had to overcome numerous challenges imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic to successfully get us into a position where we can safely launch. I couldn’t have asked for a better team,” said Col. Edward Byrne, MEO Space Systems Division chief. “SV03 is set to join the first two GPS III satellites as we continue our journey to modernize the constellation.”

GPS III satellite signals are more accurate and more powerful than previous generations, providing improved performance for civilian and military users. SV03 will add another military code (M-Code) capable satellite as the team continues to modernize the GPS fleet. M-Code will provide more accurate military signals with improved anti-jamming capabilities for the warfighter. Full M-Code capability is set to rollout with the GPS OCX Block 2 ground segment.

GPS III SV 03 rolls to Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex-40 launch pad in preparation for its June 30 launch aboard a Falcon 9. (Photo courtesy of SpaceX via USAF)

GPS III SV 03 rolls to Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex-40 launch pad in preparation for its June 30 launch aboard a Falcon 9. (Photo courtesy of SpaceX via USAF)

About the Author:


Senior Editor Tracy Cozzens joined GPS World magazine in 2006. She also is editor of GPS World’s newsletters and the sister website Geospatial Solutions. She has worked in government, for non-profits, and in corporate communications, editing a variety of publications for audiences ranging from federal government contractors to teachers.

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