Featured Image Source: Lockheed Martin
The United States Space Force contracted SpaceX's services to launch a third new-generation GPS-3 series navigation satellite. The $500 million satellite, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, is designed to upgrade the United States' GPS navigation constellation. It will work alongside 31 operational satellites in their GPS network, which provide time and positioning services globally for the military, as well as civilian users. The satellites send signals to airplanes, road vehicles, bank ATMs, even bombs that are controlled by computerized systems. The U.S Space Force says, "GPS III’s 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."
No audio, but no less dramatic watching this full duration static fire test of @SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage rocket booster that will support @USSpaceForceDoD's and @AF_SMC's next GPS III mission (Video courtesy @SpaceX). #SpaceStartsHere #SMC pic.twitter.com/bNGpPSiDfs— SMC (@AF_SMC) February 20, 2020
Originally, the GPS-3 launch was scheduled for April 29. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket would liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida to deploy the GPS-3 satellite into operational orbit. U.S. Space Force officials announced on April 7, the launch has been delayed until June 30, due to the ongoing worldwide Coronavirus pandemic that is rapidly spreading across the United States. Space Force's Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) officials announced in a statement released on Tuesday, the mission was postponed in order "to minimize the potential of COVID-19 exposure to the launch crew and early-orbit operators." COVID-19, is a respiratory illness caused by a novel coronavirus strain. "We do not make this decision lightly, however, given our GPS constellation remains strong, we have the opportunity to make a deliberate decision to maintain our mission assurance posture, without introducing additional health risk to personnel or mission risk to the launch." Lt. General John F. Thompson, SMC commander and program executive officer for space, stated:
"The GPS system supports vital U.S. and allied operations worldwide, unabated. As the COVID-19 pandemic is a threat to national security, likewise, rescheduling the launch is in the interest of national security. We have to get it right the first time, and protecting our people is just as important as cost, schedule and performance."
Source: Lockheed Martin
Government agencies are reducing their 'on-site' personnel in accordance with Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. Most staff are now working from home in an effort to prevent the virus from spreading. SMC still aims to complete the next three GPS launches in 2020 and are in the process of creating a mission plan to make it possible. "Some of the steps include procedural and facility modifications at the GPS III Launch and Checkout Capability (LCC) operations center and reducing the onsite crew size to provide adequate physical distancing, per CDC guidelines," said Colonel Edward Byrne, chief of Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division, "Once these efforts are completed, and the crews have rehearsed and are deemed proficient and ready to execute under these modified conditions, we fully intend to return to our launch cadence for deploying GPS III satellites."