On Thursday, November 5 at 6:24 p.m. EST, Falcon 9 completed its second mission this year for the United States Space Force when it launched the GPS III Space Vehicle 04 from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Following stage separation, SpaceX landed Falcon 9’s first stage on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship, which was stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The spacecraft deployed approximately 1 hour and 29 minutes after liftoff.
In September 2020, the United States Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) announced its agreement with SpaceX to launch previously flown first stage boosters on future National Security Space Launch (NSSL) missions.
GPS III satellites were designed to help the U.S. Space Force modernize the current GPS constellation with new technology and advanced capabilities. The satellites provide 3x greater accuracy and up to 8x improved anti-jamming power over satellites in the current constellation. GPS III also adds a new L1C Civil signal compatible with Europe’s Galileo global navigation satellite system, which will provide greater civil user conn
As the GPS satellite constellation’s modernization continues, after adding GPS III SV04, the four GPS III satellites on orbit will represent about 12 percent of the 31 satellites in the GPS constellation.
The next satellite – GPS III SV05 – is done and the Space Force declared it “Available for Launch” back in May 2020. The satellite is now waiting to be called up for a launch date in 2021.
GPS III SV04, will be the 23rd M-Code enabled satellite in the constellation — just one short now of the 24 needed for global coverage. M-code is a more-secure, harder-to-jam or spoof signal – and is invaluable to U.S. and allied military forces.
The last GPS III launched, GPS III SV03, which lifted off from the Cape on June 30, 2020, was set operational Oct. 1, 2020.
Five more GPS III satellites are in production, three of which are fully assembled and in testing.
Lockheed Martin is also under contract to build up to 22 additional GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) satellites, which add additional technology and advanced capabilities to this warfighting system, including a new Regional Military Protection Capability, which will increase anti-jam support in theater to ensure U.S. and allied forces cannot be denied access to GPS in hostile environments; an accuracy-enhancing laser retroreflector array; a fully digital navigation payload; and a new search and rescue payload.
In July, the Space Force declared that the GPS IIIF program had fulfilled “Milestone C, which means they have entered the production phase of the program. Lockheed Martin has introduced Augmented Reality tools into the GPS IIIF production process to drive even-greater efficiency into the production process.