SpaceX launches third GPS Block III satellite

This will be SpaceX’s second GPS launch, out of the five they have been awarded so far. This mission launched at the end of its 15 minute launch window at 16:10:46 EDT (20:10:46 UTC) on 30 June 2020 from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida.

SpaceX launches third GPS Block III satellite
SpaceX launches third GPS Block III satellite

SpaceX launches third GPS Block III satellite

SpaceX launched their Falcon 9 rocket with the third Block III Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite, named SV03. Block III is the next generation of GPS satellites, replacing the aging Block II series. This will be SpaceX’s second GPS launch, out of the five they have been awarded so far.

This mission launched at the end of its 15 minute launch window at 16:10:46 EDT (20:10:46 UTC) on 30 June 2020 from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida, and was completed successfully 90 minutes later with spacecraft separation.

SV03 Launch

SpaceX previously launched the maiden GPS Block III satellite, SV01, on a Falcon 9 in December 2018. SV01 was the first launch contract that SpaceX won in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. In March 2017, SpaceX beat United Launch Alliance (ULA) to secure the launch contract for the third Block III satellite, SV03. At that time, the launch of SV03 was expected in early 2019.

Although SV01 and SV03 have flown or will fly on a Falcon 9 Block 5, their mission profiles will be slightly different. For SV01’s launch, the Air Force requested that the Falcon 9 fly in an expendable configuration to dedicate more performance to the satellite. This meant that the first stage – the new core B1054 – had to be expended on its first flight.

For SV03, however, the Space Force – who now run the GPS program – gave SpaceX the go-ahead to set aside some vehicle performance to enable first stage recovery. Because of the satellite’s deployment orbit and relatively high mass – 3.9 metric tons – the first stage will perform a ballistic landing. This will take place approximately 634km downrange, on SpaceX’s droneship Just Read The Instructions.

The exact deployment orbit for SV03 has not been publicized as of writing. However, if it follows a similar profile to SV01, it would be deployed into an approximately 1,200 by 20,000km transfer orbit. From there, the satellite would maneuver itself into a 20,200km circular orbit.

On July 25, SpaceX crews rolled the Falcon 9 stack – minus SV03 and its fairing – onto SLC-40 to perform a static fire test. A static fire test is a complete dress rehearsal of almost all launch day activities – including propellant loading and a brief test fire of the nine first stage engines. SpaceX later confirmed that the test was nominal and that they were on track for the launch.

The second stage for this mission features a gray band of paint covering the second stage’s RP-1 tank. The gray stripe is used on longer-duration missions – such as SV03 – because the second stage will perform a long coast between engine burns. For SV03 specifically, the second stage will coast for nearly an hour between its two engine firings.