Published: Wed, December 26, 2018
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

SpaceX successfully launches satellite for 1st national security mission

SpaceX successfully launches satellite for 1st national security mission

This marks the US-based aerospace company's first USA national security mission to date.

The hardware sent to orbit by Elon Musk's space cargo hauling company is now one of 31 operational GPS satellites used by the Air Force to deliver info about positioning, navigation, and timing to both its own and allied forces operating around the world.

SpaceX said the rocket was a "rare, expendable" version of the Falcon 9 since it would not attempt to re-land the booster after launch, needing to reserve all the rocket fuel to propel the satellite to its distant orbit.

It was SpaceX's fifth attempt following technical and weather delays.

SpaceX was initially scheduled to launch on Tuesday, while Vice President looked on from Kennedy Space Center.

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"There simply was not a performance reserve to meet our requirements and allow for this mission to bring the first stage back", Walter Lauderdale, mission director at the Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Launch Enterprise Systems Directorate, said during a prelaunch call with reporters on December 14. It's the first in a series and nicknamed Vespucci after the 15th-century Italian explorer who calculated Earth's circumference to within 50 miles (80 kilometers).

It withdrew the lawsuit in 2015 after Air Force agreed to break the monopoly of Boeing and Lockheed. This victory is even more special for SpaceX considering that it had dragged the U.S. Air Force to court in 2014, after it awarded the multibillion-dollar contract of 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance - a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed.

The $529 million Global Positioning System 3 satellite is the first of 10 being built by Lockheed Martin.

According to Eschenfelder, the next GPS III satellite is set to launch in mid-2019 and additional satellites will be tested at Lockheed's processing facility in Colorado.

The launch was also SpaceX's 21st and final launch of the year, the company said.

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