A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the GPS 3 navigation satellite lifts off from the low fog at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station minutes after sunrise.

William Harwood/CBS News

Cape Canaveral, Florida – On Wednesday, SpaceX launched the latest in a series of more powerful Global Positioning System navigation satellites, continuing US Space Force upgrading the entire fleet to provide improved accuracy and anti-obstacle capability. The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a 9,595-pound satellite lifted off from the Space Force Station at Cape Canaveral at 7:24 a.m. ET and headed in an arc northeast over the Atlantic Ocean.

After the first stage of the rocket was jettisoned from the first stage flying back to land on the naval drone ship, the rocket’s upper stage engine fired twice to enter the planned deployment orbit before releasing the satellite for independent flight.

Lockheed Martin has built 10 GPS 3 satellites for the space force — the satellite launched Wednesday was No. 6 — and has a contract to build 22 advanced GPS 3 Follow-On navigation beacons for upgrade the entire constellation with state-of-the-art components.

“We currently have four more GPS satellites at our facility in Colorado that are ready for launch,” said Andre Trotter, vice president of navigation systems at Lockheed Martin.

A camera on the second stage of the Falcon 9 captured the view of the GPS 3 satellite, which was released for autonomous flight about 90 minutes after launch.


GPS satellites constantly transmit ultra-precise time signals from onboard atomic clocks. Military and civilian receivers in devices ranging from car navigation systems to smart weapons can calculate their position, speed and altitude by analyzing small differences in signals from multiple satellites.

The GPS 3 satellites are “the most powerful and stable GPS satellite ever built,” Tonya Ledwig, vice president of Lockheed Martin, said before the pre-launch. “We provide three times the accuracy of existing satellites in the constellation and have eight times the anti-jamming capabilities.”

GPS 3 satellites also have improved civilian signals, compatibility with other navigation systems and improved search and rescue capabilities, as well as a military channel that is more accurate and immune to jamming.

Artist’s impression of a GPS 3 navigation satellite in orbit with solar panels and antennas deployed.

Lockheed Martin

The new satellites are “a key contribution to the Space Systems Command’s ongoing efforts to modernize GPS, providing new capabilities for both civilian and military users around the world,” said Cordell DeLaPena Jr., program executive director.

“The GPS 3 satellites increase our ability to provide military and civilian users with more reliable and accurate signals that enable everyday operations such as navigation and search and rescue operations.”

The launch was SpaceX’s fourth this year. The fifth of about 100 planned launches will take place Thursday at 10:23 a.m. EST, when another Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch 51 Starlink Internet satellites from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California.


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