Fourth GPS satellite arrives safely in Florida
On July 14, the fourth satellite in the Global Positioning System III (GPS III) system arrived at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, for processing in preparation of its launch in September. The U.S. Space Force Space and Missile Systems Center bought the spacecraft a plane ticket to the Space Coast onboard a US Air Force C-17 based out of Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
Designed and built by Lockheed Martin for the United States Space Force, the satellite known as GPS III Space Vehicle 04 (SV04), will join the constellation of 31 GPS satellites once it is launched in late September. Like most GPS satellites, the block III iteration of the GPS satellite system operates on a semi-synchronous medium earth orbit, meaning that their orbital period is equal to approximately half the orbital period of the earth. In other words, it takes the earth 24 hours to rotate on its axis, and it will take the satellites 12 hours to orbit, at an altitude of approximately 12,600 miles.
The GPS III constellation will help to improve not only the United States warfighter, but allied military forces and transportation services around the world. The satellites will bring new navigation signals broken down into four parts: New Civilian L1C, Safety Of Life (L5), Military (M-code), and Civilian L2C. Altogether, the satellites’ ultimate goal will be to improve signal strength and power that is being beamed to the earth’s surface. If you notice your GPS signal and accuracy has improved in the next 1-2 years, you can thank GPS III.
Colonel Edward Byrne, Division Chief for Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems, is particularly proud and excited about the potential success the delivery of this satellite will bring to the GPS program as a whole. “The shipment of the fourth GPS III satellite was successfully conducted just two weeks after the launch of our GPS III-SV03 satellite. This operation is a remarkable achievement and testament to the hard work of the entire GPS team members from all across the country… The delivery of SV04 marks the start of our third GPS III launch campaign on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and brings us another step closer in advancing the GPS constellation with more capable satellites.”
As mentioned, the delivery of the spacecraft to the Cape comes just two short weeks after the launch of the third GPS III vehicle, atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 on June 30. GPS III SV04 will be serviced, processed, and made ready to launch by Astrotech, a company with a long history in processing of government satellites, at the Astrotech checkout facility in Titusville, just outside the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Once the spacecraft checkouts are complete, it will be transported to SpaceX’s Horizontal Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station where it will be mated to the Falcon 9 rocket.
Following payload mating, the systems and the health of the rocket and spacecraft will be verified and tested, ultimately leading to a static fire and launch of the rocket. The launch is currently tracking to occur No-Earlier-Than (NET) September of this year. The launch will be the third GPS III mission for SpaceX, with the SV02 satellite having launched atop the final flight of United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Medium rocket.
Having a life-long interest in crewed space flight, Desforges’ passion materialized on a family vacation in 1999 when he was able see the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on STS-96. Since then, Desforges has been an enthusiast of space exploration efforts. He lived in Orlando, Florida for a year, during which time he had the opportunity to witness the flights of the historic CRS-4 and EFT-1 missions in person at Cape Canaveral. He earned his Private Pilot Certificate in 2017, holds a degree in Aviation Management, and currently works as an Operations Analyst in the aviation industry in Georgia.