SpaceX launches GPS III satellite for Space Force

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the third in a series of next-generation GPS III satellites into orbit today, marking another step forward for America’s satellite-based navigation system and the Space Force that manages it.

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SpaceX launches first next-gen GPS satellite

SpaceX Falcon 9 launch
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (SpaceX via YouTube)

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket sent a next-generation GPS satellite into orbit today for the U.S. Air Force, marking a couple of firsts — as well as a “last.”

It’s the first GPS III spacecraft to reach space, marking the start of a transition that will triple the accuracy of the Global Positioning System and boost its capability to resist jamming by up to eight times.

It’s also the first official SpaceX launch of a national security payload for the Air Force under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, after a years-long process that saw SpaceX file a lawsuit against the federal government (and ultimately reach a settlement).

And the “last”? Today’s mission was the 21st and last launch for SpaceX in 2018, setting a new record for the California-based company. (Last year’s 18 marked its previous personal best.)

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Final Boeing-built GPS satellite goes into orbit

Image: Atlas 5 launch
United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket rises from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying the GPS IIF-12 satellite into space. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)

The last GPS Block IIF satellite built by the Boeing Co. was sent into orbit for the U.S. Air Force today, filling out a set of a dozen.

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket carried the 3,500-pound GPS IIF-12 satellite into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at the start of today’s launch window, at 8:38 a.m. ET (5:38 a.m. PT). Hours later, the rocket’s Centaur upper stage put the satellite into a 12,700-mile-high orbit.

Today’s launch was the first one of the year for United Launch Alliance, which is a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture.

The 12 Block IIF satellites are part of the Air Force’s Global Positioning System constellation, which provides navigation data for users worldwide. Those users range from Air Force controllers calling in air strikes to drivers, sailors and hikers trying to figure out how to get where they want to go.

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