US Space Force successfully launches sixth GPS III satellite

Monday, 30 January, 2023

US Space Force successfully launches sixth GPS III satellite

The US Space Force’s Space Systems Command (SSC) successfully launched the GPS III Space Vehicle 06 (SV06) on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on the morning of 18 January (US time) from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida. The satellite was safely delivered to its target orbit, separating from its upper stage approximately 89 minutes after launch.

GPS is the premier space-based provider of positioning, navigation and timing services for more than four billion users worldwide. GPS III SV06 will augment the US Space Force’s current GPS constellation, comprising 31 operational spacecraft operating in medium Earth orbit (MEO) at an altitude of approximately 20,200 km in six orbital planes. The satellite will undergo two weeks of on-orbit checkout and tests before operational use begins in a few months.

GPS III, the latest generation of GPS satellites, is said to boast a 15-year design life — 25% longer than the previous generation of GPS satellites on orbit — and brings new capabilities to users such as the new L1C civilian signal, which opens the window for future interoperability with international satellite navigation systems. It is also said to feature three times greater accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities.

“SV06 is a key contribution to Space Systems Command’s ongoing GPS modernisation effort, bringing about new capabilities to both civilian and military users around the globe. Our progress is only possible due to the close collaboration between our GPS III program office and contractor teammates,” said Cordell DeLaPena Jr, Program Executive Officer for SSC’s Military Communications & Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) Directorate. “GPS III satellites increase our ability to provide military and civilian users with more robust and accurate signals that enable everyday operations such as navigation and search and rescue operations.

“With the GPS III SV06 launch, GPS has accomplished another step towards Positioning, Navigation, and Timing (PNT)’s overall mission of modernising capabilities for our civilians and military users while maintaining the performance and resiliency of our existing architecture. I am extremely proud of the work GPS’s teams and collaborators have done to bring our satellite infrastructure closer to a new age of robust and highly accurate signals.”

This was the fifth launch of a GPS III satellite using a SpaceX Falcon 9 since December 2018 and the last GPS mission procured under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) Phase 1A contract, awarded in 2018. The previous GPS launch for the US Space Force, GPS III SV05, was in June 2021 and was the first-ever NSSL mission to use a previously flown booster. As with that launch, SpaceX recovered the first-stage rocket used for GPS III SV06 and will refurbish it for a subsequent launch.

Image caption: The SpaceX Falcon 9 launches a GPS III satellite to orbit from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Image credit: SpaceX.

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