WASHINGTON — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that successfully carried astronauts to the International Space Station in October found a second life Wednesday morning, launching a GPS III satellite in support of the U.S. Space Force’s positioning, navigation and timing mission.
The service has flown reused launch vehicle components in the past, but this mission -- which lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida -- was the first to rely on a rocket previously used by another government agency, in this case NASA.
Walt Lauderdale, deputy mission director at Space Systems Command, told reporters during a Jan. 17 briefing the service worked closely with NASA’s Commercial Crew team to ensure the reused launch vehicle met its safety and performance requirements.
“The first-time activity is another example of our commitment to continuous improvement that takes advantage of SpaceX’s commercial capability without sacrificing mission assurance,” he said.
The Space Force first approved SpaceX, founded by billionaire Elon Musk, to fly national security missions with previously flown components in 2020. The company regularly recovers and reuses rocket boosters, which provide thrust to the spacecraft.
Today’s mission, which carried the service’s sixth GPS III satellite to orbit, was SpaceX’s fourth launch in 2023 and its second U.S. Space Force flight in just three days. The company plans to conduct 100 launches this year.
The Lockheed Martin-built satellite will join 31 other operational GPS spacecraft and is expected to be on orbit at least 15 years. The satellite offers three times as much accuracy as previous GPS satellites, along with improved anti-jam protection.
The next GPS III satellite is slated to launch in 2024.
Courtney Albon is C4ISRNET’s space and emerging technology reporter. She has covered the U.S. military since 2012, with a focus on the Air Force and Space Force. She has reported on some of the Defense Department’s most significant acquisition, budget and policy challenges.