A new era in GPS navigation launched Sunday, when a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket climbed into orbit with a Lockheed Martin-built satellite designed to beam higher-power positioning, navigation and timing signals around the world, providing military and civilian users with more accurate data that is more resistant to growing jamming threats.
The demands of launching the first in an upgraded line of U.S. Air Force GPS navigation satellites, including a late load of extra fuel for the spacecraft and a military policy of reserving fuel to eliminate space junk, will keep SpaceX from recovering the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket following liftoff Thursday from Cape Canaveral, according to mission managers.
Managers have pushed back the next flight of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4-Heavy rocket from a launch pad in California until no sooner than early December, and the first launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for the U.S. Air Force has likely been delayed to some time early next year, officials said this week.
The head of the launch enterprise directorate at the U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center, Claire Leon, spoke with reporters March 15 about the military’s award of a GPS launch contract to SpaceX, and she discussed plans for more head-to-head launch contract competitions in the coming months.
The U.S. Air Force this week awarded SpaceX a contract to launch a Global Positioning System satellite in early 2019, concluding the second of as many as 15 competitions the military plans to run over the next year to pit SpaceX against United Launch Alliance for rights to lift defense and intelligence-gathering payloads into orbit.