SpaceX Successfully Launches GPS Satellite via Falcon 9 for US Space Force

SpaceX made a perfect launch of the advanced GPS satellite for the U.S. Space Force on Tuesday.
Brad Bergan

SpaceX's latest Falcon 9 launch happened on Tuesday, June 30, after minor delays — inserted a novel GPS satellite for the U.S. Space Force into orbit.

With Tuesday's mission — which lifted off at 4:10 PM EDT — SpaceX achieved its third successful mission since the historic launch of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station via Crew Dragon on May 30 — the first crewed mission launched from U.S. soil in nearly a decade.

This was also the first time the company successfully landed a rocket after deploying a military satellite.


UPDATE June 30, 4:37 PM EDT: Stage 2 successfully in orbit, GPS satellite deploys in 1 hour, loss of signal

SpaceX's stage 2 is currently in low-Earth orbit (LEO), and will continue its trajectory until performing maneuvers for orbital insertion of the U.S. Space Force's GPS satellite — to occur at or around 5:37 PM EDT.

Loss of signal due to the spacecraft's motion around the Earth (which blocks line-of-sight radio contact) occured at 4:36 PM EDT — operators at mission control will re-establish direct contact when the spacecraft completes an orbit around the planet.

UPDATE June 30, 4:20 PM EDT: Stage 1 successfully lands after landing burn, stage 2 rocket shuts down Merlin engine

The stage 1 rocket made a successful landing on Earth (on a sea-based drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean) after delivering the second stage into orbit, which disengaged its Merlin engine before an upcoming second burn.

So far, everything is going perfectly.

UPDATE June 30, 4:15 PM EDT: 'Max Q' passed, Merlin engines shutdown imminent

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket passed "max Q;" the maximum dynamic pressure on the spacecraft, beyond which greater acceleration will meet less pressure as the atmosphere becomes less dense.

The first stage separation has completed, and the second stage is burning at full power. So far, everything looks good in terms of trajectory.

On the left side of the screen we can see the "grid fins" of the first stage rocket deployed as it prepares to re-enter Earth's atmosphere.

UPDATE June 30, 4:11 PM EDT: Falcon 9 lifts off from Cape Canaveral

The Falcon 9 carrying the US Space Force's GPS satellite has lifted off from Cape Canaveral, with no issues so far.

The craft is preparing for maximum dynamic pressure as it goes to full power at supersonic speeds.

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UPDATE June 30, 4:06 PM EDT: Good weather balloon report, go for launch

The latest weather balloon is go for launch, according to the SpaceX live stream. The Falcon 9 is moving into the final stages of the countdown.

Fuel loading is complete for both the first and second stages. Liquid oxygen is filling up on the first stage, and will finish filling on the second stage at T-minus 2 minutes.

UPDATE June 30, 4:05 PM EDT: GPS satellite facts

"GPS touches the lives of everyday people, all the time," said an official during the early live stream of the Falcon 9 launch.

"We're already preparing for the next generation of GPS satellites [...] with greater technology and greater capability," said another.

UPDATE June 30, 4:00 PM EDT: 9 minutes to launch, second back-up launch window 3:51 PM EDT Wednesday

The Falcon 9 was rolled out at roughly 10:00 AM on Monday, and the vehicle is currently healthy. Today's delayed 4:10 PM EDT launch will happen at the end of the launch window for Cape Canaveral today.

If anything goes wrong, there is another launch window tomorrow, on Wednesday at 3:51 EDT (tomorrow), according to the SpaceX live stream.

UPDATE June 30, 3:36 PM EDT: New launch time 4:10 EDT due to winds, still go for launch

SpaceX has delayed the Falcon 9 launch to 4:10 PM EDT due to upper-level winds, according to a tweet. However, the launch should still move forward without problems.

SpaceX on 11th 2020 launch, nearing company record

The mission to lift a new U.S. Space Force satellite into orbit is SpaceX's 11th launch of 2020. Surging forward with this year's lightspeed pace of launches will help Elon Musk's commercial space startup set a new company record for the most launches in one year.

SpaceX launched another military GPS satellite in 2018, when the U.S. Air Force said the company couldn't successfully achieve the necessary flight trajectory and also land the first-stage booster, reports SpaceNews.

SpaceX Starlink Satellites deployed from Falcon 9

Since then SpaceX and the U.S. military have reached a renewed agreement regarding GPS mission requirements and the cost of launch — which will allow SpaceX to try to land its first stage after lifting the satellite on Tuesday.

Tuesday's launch window from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station opens at 3:55 PM EDT. With a 60% chance of favorable weather, things are looking up.

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