The Space Force’s next national security launch will send the service’s newest GPS satellite up into space aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, while provider Space X will attempt to recover the booster for the first time after a natsec-related launch.
The service’s third GPS III satellite is scheduled to launch June 30 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, after a two-month delay from its originally scheduled date. It will be the second time a Falcon 9 carries a GPS III satellite into space; SpaceX served as the provider for the first satellite’s launch in December 2018, while the second satellite was launched on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta V rocket in August 2019. ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Boeing [BA].
This will be the first national security space launch (NSSL) where SpaceX will attempt to recover the booster post-launch, stakeholders said in a June 26 media teleconference. Walter Lauderdale, mission director for the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch Enterprise said that the Space Force agreed to give SpaceX the opportunity to recover the booster during this mission in exchange for some revised spacecraft requirements. “Given our technical insight and the support from our GPS teammates, from a mission design perspective, we were able to reach an arrangement in the best interest of the government,” he said.
This is also Space X’s first launch since the U.S. Space Force was established in December 2019, said Lee Rosen, the company’s vice president of customer operations and integration. Space X completed a full duration static fire test on Thursday, and the team is ready for launch June 30, he said. “About two minutes and 38 seconds into flight, we will light the second stage and get that GPS off into the proper orbit,” Rosen said. “Approximately nine minutes after that, the first stage will land on the newly refurbished drone ship, [named] ‘Just Read the Instructions.’”
June marks the 10-year anniversary of Space X’s first Falcon 9 launch, Rosen noted. Since then, the rocket has completed 87 missions.
Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is continuing production on the rest of the GPS III satellites. Space Vehicles 4 and 5 are complete and have been declared available for launch by the Space Force, while SV-06, SV-07 and SV-08 are completely assembled on the production floor and are currently going through post assembly and environmental testing, said Tonya Ladwig, acting vice president of Navigation Systems Division, Lockheed Martin Space. SV-09 and SV-10 are currently in component build-up, she added. In June, GPS III partner L3Harris [LHX] delivered the navigation payload for SV-09.
Lockheed Martin is also on contract to build the first two follow-on GPS III satellites, SV-11 and SV-12, under a $1.4 billion GPS IIIF contract awarded in 2018. The entire GPS IIIF constellation could include up to 22 satellites. Lockheed Martin completed the critical design review in March.
The team lauded the fact that launch preparations were able to continue despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has been sweeping the globe since early 2020 and so far has resulted in over 120,000 U.S. deaths.
“Though the journey has been difficult, we have prevailed, which is truly a testament to all parties involved in this mission,” said Col. Edward Byrne, senior materiel leader at the Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division, on the call. “It was only through the amazing levels of communication, collaboration and teamwork that we were all able to be here today.”