MT LAUREL, New Jersey – SpaceX launched the latest US Air Force GPS satellite, December 23 on the Falcon 9 rocket, finishing the 21st and final launch of the company in the year.
The rocket took off at 8:51 am east of Cape Canaveral, Florida, after technical and weather-related delays that pushed the mission for five days. His cargo, the first GPS 3 satellite from Lockheed Martin, separated from the rocket an hour and 59 minutes later.
The premiere was a double milestone for SpaceX, setting a new record in comparison with last year's 18 launches, as well as the fulfillment of the company's first defense mission, which was held as part of the Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
Spectacular annual SpaceX performance, which included the first launch of Falcon Heavy, was smaller than the company's initial forecast of 30 to 40 premieres. SpaceX has increased its fast-paced rhythm with eight missions in 2016 and six in 2015 (Falcon 9 errors in both years were limited).
SpaceX has launched other national security missions, such as the unrecognized National Reconnaissance Office NROL-76 satellite and the unfounded X-37B space force aircraft, both in 2017. Air Force chose SpaceX to launch four more GPS 3 satellites in addition to today's mission.
SpaceX did not regain the first stage of Falcon 9, with fuel that would serve to land the amplifier instead of the mission's requirements to bring 4,400 kilograms of satellite to a highly elliptical orbit. From there, the satellite will circulate on a medium orbit around the globe, joining the GPS constellation of 31 older satellites, providing positioning, navigation and timing services to more than four billion users.
The new GPS 3 satellite replaces the aging GPS 2R probe, launched in 1997.
Lockheed Martin is building the first 10 GPS 3 satellites through contracts awarded in 2008 and 2016. In this September aviation, Lockheed Martin was selected to build up to 22 GPS 3 satellites after re-opening the program to competition in the face of schedule delays and cost overruns.
The GPS 3 program is more than four years old compared to the original first launch schedule.
Lockheed Martin said he dealt with the problems that plagued the first few satellites, but the company received help in winning additional GPS 3 builds by missing Boeing and Northrop Grumman – two predicted rivals who ultimately decided not to bid in the Air Force compensation.
GPS 3 gives a stronger signal to counter electronic jams. It will be the first GPS satellite that will broadcast four civil signals, and the first will launch and control the cash register with the new ground air control system: OCX Block 0.
As this is the first device of this type, the reception of a new satellite can take between six and nine months. On the order of the orbit, it will start about 10 days after commissioning. When it is considered operational, six to nine months of testing are planned to integrate the new satellite with the constellation.
Lockheed Martin has produced 18 of the 31 GPS satellites currently operating. It is estimated that the first GPS 3 vehicle costs 529 million USD. It was recalled by the Italian explorer 'Vespucci'.
The Lockheed Martin 3 GPS satellites are designed for operation for at least 15 years. The Air Force intends to launch with the second GPS 3 satellite next year.
SpaceNews Staff Writer Sandra Erwin contributed to this article.