SpaceX successfully launched the United States Air Force’s first Global Positioning System (GPS) III satellite, which is nicknamed Vespucci, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This marks the US-based aerospace company’s first U.S. national security mission to date. The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a roughly $500 million GPS satellite built by Lockheed Martin Corp lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 8:51 a.m. local time.
Previous four scheduled launches for this same mission in the last week, including one on Saturday, were canceled because of weather and technical issues. The Air Force said that the launch was originally scheduled for 2014 but has been hobbled by production delays.
In a statement, the company said:
This newest generation of GPS satellites is designed and built to deliver positioning, navigation, and timing information. GPS is used by over four billion users and supports critical missions worldwide.
Elon Musk-led SpaceX had won the National Security Space (NSS) contract with the Air Force in 2016 and intends to launch an additional four GPS III missions on Falcon 9, which is a two-stage rocket manufactured by the company.
However, it wasn’t easy for SpaceX to get the military contract. The company had sued the U.S. Air Force in 2014 over the military’s award of a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract for 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance, which is a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed.
Notably, the company dropped the lawsuit in 2015 after the Air Force agreed to open up competition. In the following year SpaceX won an $83 million Air Force contract to launch the GPS III satellite, which will have a lifespan of 15 years.
For its Florida launches, SpaceX relies on assistance from the US Air Force’s 45th Space Wing, which oversees flights out of Cape Canaveral. It helps the company to clear the airspace for launches, provides weather reports, and sets up road closures to make sure the public stays clear of the site.
The next GPS III satellite is due to launch in mid-2019 and the subsequent satellites will undergo testing in the company’s Colorado processing facility.
SpaceX has completed 21 launches in this year, which is more than the 18 launches last year, in what’s been a banner year for the company. The company, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, is reportedly raising $500