SpaceX successfully launches an updated GPS satellite for the US Space Force

SpaceX successfully launched its anticipated GPS Navigation satellite with its Falcon 9 rocket on the evening of 5 November. The launch, conducted for the US Space Force was completed with the Falcon 9 rocket which faced a failure to launch earlier this month.

However, this launch was a smooth one, and the 229 foot Falcon 9 is said to take off with a spectacle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. As planned, the engines fell off two and half minutes after liftoff, swiftly after this, the first stage of the rocket fell away and witnessed a safe landing on an off-shore drone ship. Following this, the flight continued on the rocket’s second stage engine

Continuing its flight, the GPS 3 satellite was deployed in space 90 minutes after takeoff, as estimated. Built by Lockheed Martin, The GPS 3 satellite is the fourth in the series of third generation navigation stations. If further test results of the satellite are approved, it will join a constellation of 31 satellites in space. These satellites orbit around the earth and at least four of them can be viewed from a horizon anywhere on the planet.

“GPS-3 provides three times greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming power over satellites in the existing constellation. For those keeping score, the four more powerful GPS-3 satellites will represent a little better than 12% of the 31 satellites in the constellation, but the number’s growing” said Tonya Ladwig, Vice President of Lockheed Martin’s Navigation Systems Division in a conference.

According to Lockheed officials, the upgraded GPS navigation satellites beam down higher power signals which are stronger, and have additional broadcast frequencies to increase the accuracy and compatibility of the GPS network.

The US Military plans on launching a total of 10 of these upgraded satellites. These will replace their predecessors in the constellation. SpaceX has signed contracts for the launch of two more GPS 3 satellites, and expect to launch them in 2021.

B1062, the booster used for the launch of the satellite, is a latest addition for SpaceX and might not be replaced very soon. The US government has given SpaceX permission to launch military missions on flight proven satellites only. In addition, the next two military missions of SpaceX are to be launched by refurbished rockets only.

Last evening’s mission saw the launch of the 97th Falcon 9 rocket, and was the 20th successful mission of SpaceX.

The first attempt to launch the satellite failed on 2 October as the launch ended automatically two seconds before takeoff. An investigation into this showed how a masking lacquer blocked the vents in the Merlin engines of the rocket. Following this, it was found that more engines had the same problem.

NASA then emphasized on testing the Falcon 9 with replaced engines before the GPS satellite launch. Other faulty Merlin engines were also replaced. This is crucial before NASA’s launch of a crewed spacecraft to the International Space Station, planned for 14 November. The mission, called “Crew 1” will be using two engines from Falcon 9 rockets. These engines will also be replaced to reduce risk.



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