SpaceX successfully launched a GPS III satellite for the U.S. Space Force today. The Space Force took over the U.S. in-space GPS assets from the Air Force when it became its own dedicated wing of the U.S. armed forces.
The launch employed a Falcon 9 rocket, the first stage of which was new and fresh from SpaceX’s factory floor. This launch did include a recovery attempt of the Falcon 9 booster, however, unlike the first GPS III launch that SpaceX launched in December 2018. SpaceX says that it was able to work with its customer to ensure that it could complete its mission as planned, while retaining enough reserve fuel for a recovery attempt — something that didn’t happen with the first launch.
That’s good news for SpaceX, as it means it won’t be losing that booster this time around, with a confirmed successful controlled burn and landing on its floating drone landing ship at sea. That booster can now be refurbished and used again for future Falcon 9 missions.
The GPS spacecraft launched on this flight includes greater capabilities, better security and the potential to impact up to 4 billion users worldwide, the Space Force notes. It’ll enter a geosynchronous orbit and work with other existing GPS III satellites on orbit, as well as other existing earlier-generation GPS satellites operated by the U.S.
SpaceX also says that its Ms. Tree and Ms. Chief ships will attempt fairing recovery at sea, not via catch but by fishing them out of the water. The fairing protects the satellite during the launch and on its trip to space, and then falls back to Earth — where SpaceX generally tries to recover the pieces for later refurbishment and re-use.
The deployment of the satellite will occur around an hour and a half after launch, so while the launch has been successful, the full mission status will only be determined then. We’ll update this post with the results of that maneuver.