A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the third in a series of next-generation GPS III satellites into orbit today, marking another step forward for America’s satellite-based navigation system and the Space Force that manages it.
Liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida came at 4:10 p.m. ET (1:10 p.m. PT), at the end of a 15-minute launch window. Minutes after launch, the first-stage booster and flew itself back to touch down on a drone ship in the Atlantic, while the second stage and its payload pushed onward to orbit.
The van-sized spacecraft is due for deployment about an hour and a half after launch. SpaceX launched the first GPS III satellite in late 2018, and United Launch Alliance sent up the second one last August. This was SpaceX’s first launch for the Space Force since the military branch came into existence last December.
GPS III represents a significant upgrade of the existing Global Positioning System satellite constellation. By 2023, 10 GPS III satellites, built by Lockheed Martin, should be providing navigation and positioning readings that are three times as precise as the current system, with eight times the capability to resist jamming.