The United States’ venerable Global Positioning System (GPS) is about to get a shot in the arm.
The first advanced, next-generation “GPS III” satellite soared into space today (Dec. 23) atop a two-stage SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8:51 a.m. EST (1351 GMT) after nearly a week of delays. The spacecraft, dubbed “Vespucci,” was deployed into medium Earth orbit about 2 hours after liftoff.
SpaceX has launched payloads for the U.S. military before, but Vespucci is the company’s first official “National Security Space” mission — a designation reserved for liftoffs deemed critical to national defense. [See Photos of SpaceX’s GPS III Satellite Launch!]
SpaceX usually attempts to land Falcon 9 first stages shortly after liftoff for future reuse, but that didn’t happen today. The rocket flew in an expendable configuration, without any landing legs, at the request of SpaceX’s customer, the U.S. Air Force.
“There simply was not a performance reserve to meet our requirements and allow for this mission to bring the first stage back,” Walter Lauderdale, mission director at the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate, said during a prelaunch call with reporters on Dec. 14.