SpaceX launches 6th GPS mission

January 18 at 7:00 am E.T. from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station

SpaceX just launched their fifth Falcon Heavy to date, but they haven’t stopped to rest on their laurels long. Just three days later now we saw the GPS III SV06 mission lift off from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at seven in the morning. Carrying the latest Global Positioning Satellite of the block III variety. Named Emelia Earhart, after the famous explorer who went missing just before the United States entered WWII.

She will join the already operational constellation of thirty-one other GPS satellites and deliver enhanced performance and accuracy through a variety of improvements. These include increased signal protection, L1C civil signal interoperability, and civilian L5 signal nicknamed “the safety line” as it is a crucial foundation for internet, financial, transportation, and agricultural operations, supporting the U.S. and allied operations worldwide. These block III satellites, manufactured by Lockheed Martin are each designed to have a fifteen-year lifespan, though will likely last longer. The overall goal of these third generation sats is to provide enhanced signal reliability, accuracy, and integrity while built upon improving features included on the Blook IIR-M and IIF satellites.

Of the now thirty-one active GPS satellites in orbit there are four different versions and two different blocks. The blocks are indicated by the Roman Numerals in the name and the version is given by a letter after the numerals. The first block III satellite was launched back in 2018 on a Falcon 9 rocket, with the next several coming in 2019, 2020, and 2021. The twelve operational GPS Block IIFs where all launched between 2010 to 2016, with the seven operational GPS Block IIR-Ms having launched between 1997 and 2004. Through the progression of the years, and Blocks, Space Force has increased their satellites lifespans, precision and accuracy of both time and position, along with making the constellation harder to jam.

Flying the mission this morning was Falcon 9 B1077, who having only flown once before on the Crew-5 mission in October of last year appears to have been moved to regular service and will likely be seen launching a lot more often in the months to come. Roughly eight minutes after lift off B1077 landed 647 km downrange in the Atlantic Ocean on the drone ship A Shortfall of Gravitas or ASOG. Another 30 km downrange the fairings were pulled from the water by the SpaceX recovery vessel Doug. This fourth launch, and fourth launch of a previously flown booster from the company this year also marks the ninety-first successful booster landing consecutively, and the one-hundred-sixty-fifth overall landing.