SpaceX has successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a new GPS III satellite on Sunday from its home in Cape Canaveral. Delayed several times due to technical issues with sensors and stormy weather, the 229-foot-tall rocket lifted off at 7.21 pm IST. The GPS 3 satellite has been built by Lockheed Martin for the US Air Force. This was Space X’s 21st flight and 20th alone for the Falcon 9 rocket. “The rocket, using its on-board propulsion, will send the GPS 3 satellite through a 12,500-mile-high orbit tilted 55 degrees to the equator. It will take 12 hours to complete one orbit,” CBS news reported.
"The satellite is the first of 10 built by Lockheed Martin. It has a nuclear Detonation Detection System and a search-and-rescue payload. The network of new satellites will be used by both the U.S. military and civilians,” the Fortune reported.
The network currently features 31 operational satellites, which orbit about 12,550 miles (20,200 kilometers) above Earth. The SUV-size Vespucci, which weighed 9,700 lbs. (4,400 kilograms) at launch, won't push that number up; it will replace a GPS craft known as SVN-43, which launched in July 1997.
The solar-powered Vespucci will provide a number of advantages over the old-guard satellites, Air Force officials said. The new satellite will deliver PNT information three times more accurate than that of currently operational GPS craft. (The constellation now allows users to locate objects on the ground with an average accuracy of about 20 inches, according to Space.com report.
"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 December 14.
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Earlier, Col. Steve Whitney director of the SMC Global Positioning Systems Directorate said, "we're going to see an increase in power. We put a requirement on there to produce stronger signals, to try and fight through some of that jamming that we see, particularly on our military signals."
GPS III signals will also be compatible with other satellite-navigation systems, Whitney said, which should "maximize the availability and accuracy of navigation signals worldwide."