Press Release

First GPS III satellite successfully launched

By SpaceRef Editor
December 23, 2018
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Christmas finally arrived a little early, as the U.S. Air Force and its mission partners successfully launched the first Global Positioning Systems (GPS) III satellite Dec. 23 at 8:51 a.m. EST (14:51 UTC), 5:51 a.m. Pacific, from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The Lockheed Martin-built satellite, known as “Vespucci,” in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for whom the Americas were named, was carried to orbit aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) Falcon 9 Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, after three previous launch attempts on Dec. 18, Dec. 20 and Dec. 22 were thwarted by weather or technical issues.

“Launch is always a monumental event, and especially so since this is the first GPS satellite of its generation launched on SpaceX’s first National Security Space mission. As more GPS III satellites join the constellation, it will bring better service at a lower cost to a technology that is now fully woven into the fabric of any modern civilization,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center and Air Force program executive officer for Space. “It keeps GPS the gold standard for positioning, navigation, and timing information, giving assured access when and where it matters. This event was a capstone, but it doesn’t mean we’re done. We’re going to run a series of procedures for checkout and test to ensure everything on Vespucci functions as it was designed.”

GPS III’s “Vespucci” separated from its upper stage at 10:59 a.m. EST (15:50 UTC, 7:50 a.m. Pacific), approximately two hours and eight minutes after launch. Engineers and operators at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton facility will now begin on-orbit checkout and tests which are estimated to complete in six months. Operational use is expected to begin in about a year. “Today’s launch could not have succeeded without the teamwork of dedicated professionals. I’m extremely proud of their accomplishment.” stated Col. Steve Whitney, director of the GPS Directorate. “Today’s launch is the beginning of the GPS III era, bringing greater capabilities for our military and civilian users worldwide.”

Vespucci will be vectored to augment the current GPS constellation comprised of 31 operational spacecraft. GPS satellites operate in medium earth orbit at an altitude of approximately 20,200 km (12,550 miles) in six planes. Each satellite circles the earth twice per day. GPS provides the “Gold Standard” of position, navigation, and timing services for billions of users worldwide. GPS III, the newest generation of GPS satellites. It brings new capabilities to users, including three times greater accuracy, and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities.

SpaceRef staff editor.