Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully launches US military satellite into orbit
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 successfully placed a US military satellite into orbit on December 23. (SpaceX)
Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX has successfully launched its long-delayed US military navigation satellite into orbit, making it the company’s first national security space mission for the US Government.
- Fifth attempt at launch successful
- Weather and technology issues caused four cancellations
- GPS satellite is more powerful in accuracy and anti-jamming
The launch of the Falcon 9 rocket carrying a $US500 million GPS satellite, which is the US Air Force’s most powerful GPS satellite ever built, occurred at 1:51pm (local time) from Florida’s Cape Canaveral.
It was SpaceX’s fifth attempt in the past week following technical and weather delays. The last planned launch was cancelled on Saturday due to strong winds.
The launch was a significant victory for Mr Musk’s privately held rocket company, which has spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co.
Tweet from SpaceX with photo: “Successful deployment of GPS III SV01 to medium Earth orbit confirmed.”
SpaceX sued the US Air Force in 2014 over the military’s award of a multi-billion-dollar non-compete contract for 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed. It dropped the lawsuit in 2015 after the Air Force agreed to open up competition.
The next year, SpaceX won an $US83 million Air Force contract to launch the GPS III satellite, which will have a lifespan of 15 years.
It was built to be the first of 32 in production by Lockheed under contracts worth a combined $US12.6 billion for the Air Force GPS III program, according to Lockheed spokesman Chip Eschenfelder.
Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force, said the next-generation GPS satellite was three times more accurate than previous versions and eight times better at anti-jamming.
SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk oversaw the company’s first US government project. (AP Photo: Chris Carlson)
It is the first in a series, nicknamed Vespucci after the 15th-century Italian explorer who calculated Earth’s circumference to within 80 kilometres.
The launch was originally scheduled for 2014 but has been hobbled by production delays, the Air Force said.
The next GPS III satellite is due to launch in mid-2019, Mr Eschenfelder said, while subsequent satellites undergo testing in the company’s Colorado processing facility.
The launch was also SpaceX’s 21st and final launch of the year, the company said.