This afternoon, SpaceX will launch a new GPS satellite for the US Space Force from Cape Canaveral, Florida, part of an ongoing research by the Department of Defense to update the GPS constellation already in orbit. This satellite will replace one of the oldest and least powerful GPS satellites currently in the system, keeping the total number of satellites in space at 31.
This is the third GPS satellite model of its kind to launch into orbit and the second time SpaceX launches a GPS spacecraft. Called GPS III SV03, it is part of a block of satellites known as GPS III, designed and built by Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin says that compared to older GPS spacecraft, GPS III satellites “have three times better accuracy and up to eight times better anti-jamming capabilities.”
The spacecraft also has a number of new features. They can transmit a new signal intended to help civilians and commercial users of satellites and are also able to communicate with other navigation satellites, such as the Galileo constellation in Europe. In this way, people using the GPS system can connect with even more satellites in space. Additionally, spacecraft are expected to last longer in space than their predecessors.
The space force was preparing to launch the satellite in April, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the military branch to delay the mission. There was particular concern about the crew’s ability to remain six feet away during the satellite’s operation during its initial launch and deployment to the designated control center at the Lockheed Martin facility in Colorado. “We focused on the people, the staff, the processes and the procedures, as well as the structure,” said Colonel Edward Byrne, senior leader of the media orbit space systems division at Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. printing. The Space Force reduced the amount of crew members needed to manage the satellite at launch, moved some terminals around and created partitions for additional separation.
After trying and adapting to the new system, the Space Force is now ready to fly. In the meantime, further precautions have been taken at the launch site of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where the launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is expected. The 45th Space Wing, which oversees the launch from outside the Cape, has set up temperature controls and front paneling for its staff. Different groups of people are assigned to separate flights so that there is no “cross contamination” between staff jumping from one mission to another.
“A number of cases have increased in Florida and Brevard County, but we are taking the necessary precautions to make sure everyone is safe,” Brig. General Doug Schiess, the 45th commander of the space wing, said during the call. He noted that the 45th Space Wing oversaw several launches during the pandemic – in particular, the first manned launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon sending two NASA astronauts into space – and that no one in the 45th Space Wing has fallen ill so far.
Takeoff is scheduled for 3:55 pm ET from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX only has a short window to start, until 16:10 ET. After takeoff, SpaceX will attempt to land its Falcon 9 rocket on one of the company’s drone ships in the Atlantic. So far, there is a 60% probability that weather conditions will be favorable for the launch, but if SpaceX cannot be launched today, the company has a backup launch date on Wednesday July 1st. Live coverage of the SpaceX mission will begin approximately 15 minutes before launch.