The Venerable Global Positioning System (GPS) of the United States will soon hit the shoulder.
The first advanced "next generation GPS III" sat in space today (December 23) on the SpaceX Falcon 9 two-stage rocket, which took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:51 am EST (1351 GMT) after nearly a week of delay. If everything goes as planned, this spacecraft, named "Vespucci", will be deployed on a medium orbit around 1 hour and 56 minutes after take-off.
SpaceX has already introduced loads for US armed forces, but Vespucci is the first official mission "National Security Space" – reserved for launches considered critical for national defense. [Video: Watch SpaceX Launch the GPS III Satellite!]
SpaceX usually tries to land the first stages of Falcon 9 shortly after the start to be able to use them in the future, but it did not happen today. The rocket flew in unfolded configuration, without any platforms, at the request of the SpaceX client, the American Air Force.
"There simply was no performance reserve to meet our requirements and enable this mission to return to the first stage," said Walter Lauderdale, mission director at Aircraft & # 39; s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) to call the presenter with reporters on December 14.
It is possible that future SpaceX GPS III missions may include the first attempts to land, Lauderdale added; it depends on what the data from this flight shows. (SpaceX is under contract to launch four additional GPS III space ships.)
The GPS constellation provides accurate location, navigation and time (PNT) information to various users, from field soldiers to drivers who are trying to find the best route during rush hour traffic.
Currently, the network has 31 operational satellites, which circulate around 12,500 kilometers (20,200 km) above the Earth. The SUV size Vespucci weighed 9,700 pounds. (4,400 pounds) during take-off, it will not increase this number; it will replace the GPS device known as SVN-43, which started in July 1997.
Solar powered vespucci will provide a number of advantages over the satellites of the old guard, said air force representatives. For example, a new satellite will provide PNT information three times more accurately than the current GPS device. (The constellation now allows users to locate objects on the ground with an average accuracy of about 20 inches or 50 centimeters).
In addition, "we will see a rise in power," said Colonel Steve Whitney, director of the SMC Global Positioning Systems Directorate, in a teleconception on December 14. "We have a requirement there to produce stronger signals, to try to fight some of the jamming we see, especially in our military signals."
GPS III signals will also be compatible with other satellite navigation systems, said Whitney, which should "maximize the availability and accuracy of navigational signals around the world."
But it will take some time before Vespucci, built by Lockheed Martin, will be fully operational. It will take six to nine months to complete cash registers on orbit, and a similar amount of time to test the integrated systems of the newly created constellation, said Whitney.
31 currently operating GPS satellites belong to four different iterations – Block IIA, which began in 1990-1997; IIR block, which was abolished in 1997-2004; Block II-RM, launched in 2005-2009; and the IIF block, which has moved into spaces from 2010 to 2016.
The satellites in the IIA, IIR and II-RM blocks have been designed for operation for at least 7.5 years in orbit, and the IIF block units have a design period of 12 years. GPS III satellites, such as Vespucci, are built to last for at least 15 years. (GPS satellites usually, however, exceed their design time by significant margins).
The nickname Vespucci honors the Italian cartographer and discoverer Amerigo Vespucci, after which North and South America was named.
Today's launch was to take place on Tuesday (December 18), but SpaceX canceled this attempt after receiving a "family" reading from the sensors at the first stage of Falcon 9. Bad weather prevented two more attempts to start on Thursday (December 20) and Saturday (December 22 ).
Mike & # 39; Walls' book about looking for a strange life "There"(Grand Central Publishing, 2018, illustrated by Karl Tate) is now available. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us @Spacedotcom or Facebook. Originally published in Space.com.