GPS III Mission Liftoff

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SpaceX has successfully deployed a military-grade GPS III SV-04 satellite, on Thursday November 5, at 5:54 p.m EDT. The Falcon 9 booster B1062 launched from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. 

The mission finally took place more than a month after it was scrubbed on October 2, barely two seconds before liftoff. The GPS III SV-04 satellite is now one of the 31 primary GPS satellites in orbit.  

Reasons Behind The Long Delay

Throughout the month of September, SpaceX was forced to abort five launches in total: Four times for its Starlink-12  mission and the GPS III mission. While poor weather conditions did lead to several mission scrubs, there was an unexpected issue that was not disclosed by SpaceX.

The problem led to the delay of NASA’s Crew-1 mission until November 14. An investigation revealed that a masking lacquer blocked the relief valve in the Falcon 9’s gas generator. This caused two of the booster’s nine Merlin engines to attempt to start early, thus triggering an automatic abort. The masking lacquer itself is a red substance, similar to red polish, and is used to protect surfaces against corrosion.

At a briefing on October 28, SpaceX executive Hans Keonigsmann explained that the automatic abort prevented a “hard start” that could have damaged the booster’s engine.

GPS III Satellite: An Overview

The GPS III Space Vehicle 04, or SV-04, is the fourth in a series of GPS satellites. These satellites are manufactured by Lockheed Martin in Colorado, and are some of the most sophisticated satellites ever made. GPS III satellites possess anti-jamming capabilities that are eight times more robust than previous GPS iterations. 

They will help provide positioning, navigation and timing services for approximately 4 billion users worldwide. The upgraded GPS satellites are also meant to be more user-friendly for civilians. 

They have a new “civil signal” that enables them to communicate more easily with other satellite navigation systems in space.

According to Lockheed Martin, there are five more GPS III satellites in production. Among those five satellites, three are already fully built and currently undergoing tests.

GPS III Satellite: Where Does SpaceX Stand?

The GPS III Satellites are operated by the U.S. Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center. 

In 2018, the US Air Force awarded a GPS III, firm-fixed-priced launch contract to SpaceX worth $290,594,130. Tonight’s mission was part of that contract. Firm-fixed-price contracts place upon the contractor, SpaceX, full responsibility for all costs and resulting profits or losses.

Back when the contract was awarded, the USSF was not an independent military branch. As a result, it was not the governing body responsible for negotiations with private companies. 

An additional GPS III mission operated by SpaceX is also slated for July 2021. SpaceX is enjoying a very fruitful partnership with various US military agencies.

Last August, the company was awarded a lucrative contract by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). From 2022 through 2027, SpaceX will launch 40% of overall USSF missions. The USSF is a service branch within the Department of the Air Force, one of the three departments within the DoD.

Now that SpaceX has resolved the technical issue that has plagued its missions throughout September, the company can seamlessly proceed with its upcoming Crew-1 mission.

The aerospace company is further asserting itself as the dominating private aerospace company in the world. 

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