ORLANDO, Fla., June 30 (UPI) — Elon Musk’s SpaceX plans to launch the U.S. Air Force’s third next-generation navigation satellite for the Global Positioning System from Florida on Tuesday.
A Falcon 9 rocket is to lift off at 3:55 p.m. EDT from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40. The Air Force delayed the launch from April due to health concerns for the launch crews amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We have to get it right the first time, and protecting our people is just as important as cost, schedule, and performance,” Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Air Force’s Space and Missiles Systems Center, said in a statement about the delay.
The weather at launch time is predicted to by 60 percent favorable, according to Air Force meteorologists. A heavy cloud cover and lighting in the area are the concerns.
The military’s GPS system also is used by civilians, guiding such everyday tools as Google Maps and Uber’s ride-share locator service.
The satellite, GPS III SV03, is intended to augment and update the existing network, which has 31 spacecraft in a medium Earth orbit. The Air Force aims to keep the number of GPS satellites around 24 spacecraft, as older satellites are retired.
The Air Force has said the GPS system remains strong and fully operational dispute the delay of the launch. But military officials also said the GPS III system, when fully operational, will bring three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability than its predecessor.
The Air Force plans to complete the next three GPS III launches in 2020, trying to ensure all members of the launch team remain well during the coronavirus pandemic.
Launch and assembly crews for the GPS missions are rehearsing and reducing the onsite crew size to provide adequate physical distancing, Air Force officials said.
Lockheed Martin builds and delivers the GPS satellites, which the Air Force said is vital to U.S. and allied operations worldwide, with 4 billion users in financial, transportation, and agricultural applications.
The launch would be the second National Security Space Launch mission using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It would be the first such mission in which any launch provider has attempted to recover the first-stage booster, the Air Force said.
Astronauts return to space from U.S. soil