Spaceflight Insider

U.S Air Force awards SpaceX $96.5M contract to launch GPS III satellite

An artist’s rendition of GPS III in orbit

An artist’s rendition of GPS III in orbit. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

HAWTHORNE, Calif. — For the second time in two years, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has been awarded a contract to launch a payload for the U.S. Department of Defense. This award is a vote of confidence in SpaceX’s ongoing launch operations.

GPS III navigation satellite being prepared for its mission. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin posted on SpaceFlight Insider

First GPS III navigation satellite being prepared for its mission. (Click to enlarge) Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

Details of the Award

GPS III is part of the next generation of GPS satellites, which will introduce new capabilities to meet increasing demands of both military and civilian users, including improved anti-jamming capabilities as well as improved accuracy for precision navigation and timing.

The satellite will incorporate the common L1C signal, which is compatible with the European Space Agency’s Galileo global navigation satellite system and will complement current services with the addition of new civil and military signals. The GPS III constellation will operate in six orbital planes at a 55° inclination and an altitude of 10,898 nautical miles (20,183 kilometers).

The Air Force’s procurement strategy reintroduces competition into national security space launch services. Under the previous strategy, United Launch Alliance (ULA) was the only certified launch provider. In 2013, USAF awarded ULA a sole-source contract for launch services as part of an A “block buy” of 36 launches to save the government money through fiscal 2017. SpaceX won this award against one other competitor.

The awarding organization is the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. The GPS III launch is a $96,500,490 firm-fixed-price contract for SpaceX, which will provide launch vehicle production, mission integration, launch operations, spaceflight worthiness and mission-unique activities. The Air Force expects the satellite to be launched by April 30, 2019.



Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

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