Musk's SpaceX successfully deploys US GPS satellite into orbit

The successful launch is a boon for Elon Musk's company that has tried to gain a foothold in the military space field. — Reuters pic

SpaceX has launched payloads for the U.S. military before, but Vespucci is the company's first official "National Security Space" mission - a designation reserved for liftoffs deemed critical to national defense. GPS III has three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities.

After a number of delays, from a last-minute problem with first stage propellant temperatures on Tuesday to stormy weather on Thursday, Elon Musk's Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was able to cap off a record-setting year with the launch of the new GPS III satellite for the U.S. Air Force.

The company didn't bring its Falcon 9 rocket booster back in for a landing due to the Air Force's mission requirements.

The Sunday launch comes at the end of a full week of scrapped attempts, most of which were the result of unfavorable wind and weather conditions.

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The Falcon 9 carried to orbit 64 spacecraft, in particular 15 Micro satellites and 49 cubesats, for 35 customers from 17 countries. The GPS III will go into medium-Earth orbit roughly one hour and 56 minutes after liftoff, according to the SpaceX press kit.

In addition, "we're going to see an increase in power", Col. Steve Whitney, director of the SMC Global Positioning Systems Directorate, said in the December 14 telecon.

The next GPS III satellite is due to launch in mid-2019, Eschenfelder said, while subsequent satellites undergo testing in the company's Colorado processing facility.

SpaceX is already under contract to launch four more GPS III missions.

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The rocket blasted off from Space Launch Complex 4 at the air force base at 10:34 a.m. PST (1834 GMT).

Lockheed Martin developed the advanced Global Positioning System technology and is building the satellites at a facility near Denver.

The launch of this Falcon 9 was the last scheduled for this year. Sunday's launch was SpaceX's 21st of the year (via TicToc by Bloomberg). The original launch window was 8:55 a.m. However, he added that future GPS III missions may feature attempts to recover the first stage, depending on flight results from Sunday's mission.

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