National Security

SpaceX launches 6th GPS satellite for US government

A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket after takeoff from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2023. (SpaceX)

SpaceX launched its fourth rocket of the year Wednesday morning, as a Falcon 9 carried a new GPS navigation satellite into space for the U.S. government.

The rocket blasted off at 7:24 a.m. ET. The previously flown first-stage booster then touched down on the deck of SpaceX’s floating landing platform, named A Short Fall of Gravitas, roughly eight minutes later. 

Tucked inside its payload fairing was an upgraded GPS satellite, which is dubbed Amelia Earhardt after the prominent aviation pioneer. It marks the sixth new GPS satellite to launch for the U.S. Space Force and the fourth for SpaceX, which also launched the last one, named for Neil Armstrong, in June, 2021. 

The U.S. military has plans to launch 10 of these upgraded satellites as part of an effort to replace aging members of its current constellation. Built by Lockheed Martin, the satellites are designed to beam down higher-power signals that are more resistant to jamming. Each satellite will have a 15-year life expectancy and will eventually be part of a larger constellation of 32 next-generation satellites.

Military officials have said that each satellite is named after a historical figure. However, none of the names are official and are given to keep up the tradition of naming spacecraft and to honor famous explorers of the past — like Magellan and Vespucci. Space Force officials say that some of the satellites still to come will be named after Sally Ride and Katherine Johnson. 

According to Lockheed Martin officials, half the world’s population (roughly 4 billion people) rely on GPS technology in their daily lives, and it controls everything from transportation to agriculture and much more. 

The GPS system is not the only one of its kind in space. Europe, Russia and China all have their own, independent systems. Having a secure, functioning system is important, especially in the wake of events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

To that end, Lockheed Martin officials say these upgraded GPS satellites are crucial as they not only have more superior built-in anti-jamming systems, but they’re also more accurate and have a modular design that make them more capable of addressing changing needs and emerging threats as the constellation grows. 

They also come with a lower launch price tag thanks to rides on reusable rockets. In 2020, the military approved the use of refurbished rockets to launch its national security payloads. As such, Space Force officials said that the government saved a total of $53 million across the two flights in 2021 and 2023 by flying on reused Falcons. 

Tags gps technology Space Force SpaceX
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