Featured Image Source: Lockheed Martin
The United States Space Force contracted SpaceX's services to launch a third new-generation series Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, referred to as GPS-3. The $500 million satellite, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is designed to upgrade the United States' GPS navigation constellation. “The Global Positioning System signal and service need to be protected based on the importance of GPS to national security, civil services, and the economic benefits to the nation,” the United States Defense Secretary Dr. Mark T. Esper said. The satellites send signals to airplanes, road vehicles, bank ATMs, even bombs that are controlled by computerized systems. The U.S Space Force says the GPS-3 will aid with new civil and warfighting capabilities by 2023 - "GPS delivers the gold standard of space-based positioning, navigation, and timing services vital to U.S. and allied operations worldwide, and underpins critical financial, transportation, and agricultural infrastructure that more than four billion users have come to depend on daily.” The United States Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett stated on Wednesday:
“The U.S. GPS system, operated by the Space Force, provides so many benefits to our military, allies, and the civilian population. Thank you to the Space Professionals who provide these capabilities 24/7/365!”
The U.S. GPS system, operated by the @SpaceForceDoD, provides so many benefits to our military, allies, and the civilian population. Thank you to the #SpaceProfessionals who provide these capabilities 24/7/365! https://t.co/CAymaQ6xnT— Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett (@SecAFOfficial) June 24, 2020
Today, June 25, SpaceX conducted a static-firing of the Falcon 9 rocket that will deploy GPS-3 into orbit next week. During a static-fire test, Falcon 9's nine Merlin engines are briefly ignited for a few seconds, as it is grounded to the launchpad with clamps. Engineers asses the ignition data to ensure the rocket is ready to take flight. “Static fire test complete – targeting Tuesday, June 30 for Falcon 9 launch of GPS III Space Vehicle 03 from Space Launch Complex 40 in Florida,” SpaceX confirmed it is ready. “One step closer to launching and expanding improved GPS capability!” a Space Force representative wrote via Twitter.
One step closer to launching and expanding improved GPS capability! https://t.co/pTijBnjmcq— United States Space Force (@SpaceForceDoD) June 26, 2020
This government mission will be unique for SpaceX. The company typically recovers the Falcon 9 rocket's first-stage, by performing a controlled landing on autonomous drone ships at sea and landing pads. Recovering rocket boosters enables the company to decrease the cost of manufacturing, also decreases the price of operation for customers. During U.S. military missions the rocket is not usually recovered but during this upcoming launch, SpaceX has permission to recover the Falcon 9 booster they will utilize. It will be the first time a Falcon 9 rocket attempts a landing during a contract mission for the U.S. military.
On June 30th, the Falcon 9 will deploy the GPS-3 satellite into orbit. The satellite will operate alongside 31 operational satellites in the United State’s GPS network, in medium Earth orbit (MEO) at an altitude of approximately 20,200 kilometers (12,550 miles) above Earth. Each satellite circles the Earth twice a day to provide time and positioning services globally for the military, as well as civilian users. The GPS constellation operates in six equally-spaced orbital planes consisting of 4 GPS satellites each, orbiting around the planet. The Air Force usually only operates 24 GPS satellites per day, “This 24-slot arrangement ensures users can view at least four satellites from virtually any point on the planet,” the Department of Defense details, “The extra satellites may increase GPS performance but are not considered part of the core constellation.”