SpaceX launches GPS navigation satellite from Cape Canaveral – Spaceflight Now

A Falcon 9 rocket is launched into space with the US Space Force’s third-generation GPS navigation satellite. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Thursday from Cape Canaveral with the latest third-generation GPS navigation satellite of the US Space Force, helping to pave the way for the launch of SpaceX’s first operational astronaut mission later this month. .

Delayed by more than a month after a Falcon 9 engine problem halted the mission, the GPS payload set off in clear autumnal skies at 6:24:23 PM EST (2324:23 GMT) on Thursday.

After climbing off Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with a thrust of 1.7 million pounds, the 229-foot (70 meters) Falcon 9 rocket headed northeast from Florida’s Space Coast on a trajectory parallel to the east coast of the United States.

The Merlin 1D’s nine main engines stalled, and the first stage separated about two and a half minutes into flight.

While Merlin’s single upper-stage engine was powering the GPS satellite in orbit, the reusable reinforced first stage of the Falcon 9 descended into a precise landing on a soccer field-sized drone ship of SpaceX floating in the Atlantic Ocean about 400 miles (630 kilometers). Cape Canaveral.

The second stage of the Falcon 9 ignited twice to maneuver a third-generation GPS satellite of the US Space Force – designated GPS 3 SV04 – to an egg-shaped transport orbit between 250 miles (400 km) and 12,550 miles (20,200 km)), at an inclination of 55 degrees To the equator, according to publicly available tracking data.

These numbers confirm that the Falcon 9 rocket had reached its mark before the GPS 3 SV04 satellite built by Lockheed Martin was deployed nearly 90 minutes after take-off, concluding this year’s 20th successful SpaceX mission.

Lockheed Martin confirmed in a statement that ground teams at the company’s satellite control center near Denver have contacted the nearly five-ton GPS spacecraft, which will launch its liquid apogee engine several times in the coming days to reach a circular orbit. 12,550 miles above the ground.

Ground controllers will send commands to the GPS satellite to deploy power-generating solar panels and antennas, conduct inspections, and then deliver the spacecraft to the Military Space Operations Command.

A Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Thursday from Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Credit: Stephen Clark / Spaceflight Now

The GPS Satellite 3 SV04 will join 31 operational spacecraft in the GPS fleet to provide positioning, navigation and timing data to billions of military and civilian users around the world, and provide information for cell phones, cars, airplanes and ships.

The new satellite will complete its inspection and testing program in about a month, and officials expect GPS 3 SV04 to be ready for operational use within a few months, according to space strength.

“The GPS 3 program continues to make strides in updating the GPS constellation of the US Space Force while maintaining the gold standard of location, navigation and timing,” said Colonel Edward Byrne, Head of Space Force’s Space’s Middle Earth Orbit Systems Division. And the Missile Systems Center.

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The GPS 3 Series satellites are designed for a lifetime of 15 years, an improvement over the previous generation’s seven-and-a-half and 12-year lifetime of design for previous-generation GPS satellites.

“The 3 GPS satellites offer a big step forward in both capacity and flexibility compared to the older GPS satellites,” Byrne said. “The Global Positioning System (GPS) is an important enabler of the US military and its allies, providing global service to more than 4 billion civilian users around the world.”

The first 10 satellites of the GPS 3 series were launched in December 2018, followed by two additional GPS 3 spacecraft in August 2019 and on June 30 of this year. GPS satellites provide 3x better accuracy and improved anti-jamming capabilities of up to eight times compared to GPS spacecraft, according to Lockheed Martin.

The GPS 3 satellites also introduce a new L-band civilian signal that is compatible with other international navigation satellite networks, such as the European Galileo program. The combination of signals from GPS, Galileo, and other navigation satellites can improve the accuracy of space position measurements.

Artist’s concept of a GPS 3 satellite in space. Credit: Lockheed Martin

In September, SpaceX officials announced that they had reached an agreement with SpaceX to launch GPS 3 future satellites on Falcon 9 rockets with previously launched reinforcements. Officials said the enhanced first phase launched on the Thursday evening mission will be refurbished and used again for the upcoming launch of the GPS 3 satellite in mid-2021.

The Space Force’s Space and Rocket Systems Center, or SMC, signed an updated contract with SpaceX in September to cover the GPS satellite’s next two satellite flight agreement on reused Falcon 9 boosters. The first stage of the reused Falcon 9 will also launch the GPS 3 SV06 mission, and it will likely fly in late 2021 or early 2022.

Restructured contracts between SpaceX and SpaceX allowed the first stage of the Falcon 9 booster to land after the launch of the previous GPS satellite on June 30. SpaceX also launched the first GPS 3 series satellite in December 2018, but military officials have asked the launch company to keep all propellants Falcon 9 for the launch of that spacecraft, leaving no fuel left for the landing and landing.

Space Force has relaxed its requirements for SpaceX’s upcoming launch using a GPS satellite earlier this year, modifying the perihelion, or low point, of the target orbit to deploy the GPS payload at low altitude. This ensures that the Falcon 9 rocket can land on the June 30 mission, saving the Space Force several million dollars.

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Entering the changes to allow the recovery of the booster in four GPS missions starting with the June 30 launch, and then reusing the missile in two GPS missions starting next year, the updated launch contracts between SpaceX and SpaceX saved $ 52.7 million, officials said. .

Next year’s GPS 3 SV05 mission will be the first high-priority national security payload to be launched on a Falcon 9 booster stage previously launched. SpaceX officials will thoroughly review SpaceX’s regeneration and rocket reuse procedures and policies before removing the GPS 3 SV05 satellite for launch aboard a recycled booster next year.

This will help lay the groundwork for more national security satellites to be launched on Falcon missiles with re-used first-stage reinforcements.

“This is our journey in understanding how SpaceX is implementing a hardware refurbishment that was previously relocated,” said Walt Lauderdale, SMC’s Falcon Systems and Operations Head, and Director of GPS 3 SV04 Countdown and Launch Mission. : Then we compare that to qualifications. It’s learning and then evaluating all the work they’re doing to get these reinforcements ready to fly again. “

“This requires reviewing a number of different systems and making sure that we are good in all areas with the devices that were previously relocated, not just that particular booster,” Lauderdale said in a conference call with reporters in September.

With the GPS satellite 3 SV04 safely in orbit, SpaceX’s next mission is to launch the first regular flight of a Crew Dragon astronaut to the International Space Station, a launch scheduled for November 14 from Plate 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA engineers will analyze data from the Global Positioning System (GPS) launch Thursday night to help ensure the Merlin engines are ready to take off on the Falcon 9 launch rocket intended for the Crew Dragon.

SpaceX first attempted to launch the GPS 3 SV04 satellite on October 2, but the engine problem led to an automatic abort just two seconds before take off.

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Engineers who investigated the October 2 miscarriage found that two of the nine first-stage engines on the missile had a tendency to ignite a fraction of a second earlier than expected. Inspections showed that a closed relief valve in the gas generators of the two engines caused pressures to rise sooner than designed at start-up, and the sensors in the motors detected the problem and stopped the countdown.

SpaceX engineers Select a masking treatment It was inadvertently left in two Merlin engines as the reason to cancel the countdown last month. Inspections revealed material clogging a line leading to the pressure relief valve in the gas generator on two motors originally specified for the GPS mission.

Hans Koenigsman, SpaceX’s vice president for building and aviation reliability, said the air vent, which means a width of one-by-sixteen of an inch, has been obstructed by a reinforced hardened coating. He said the liquid varnish – similar to red nail polish – is used by an outside vendor that anodizes aluminum engine components for SpaceX.

The coating protects certain parts during the anodizing process, but the vendor – which officials has not specified – is supposed to remove the material before shipping components to SpaceX to manufacture the engine.

The gas generator in each Merlin engine drives a turbine pump that feeds kerosene and liquid oxygen fuel into the main combustion chamber.

SpaceX replaced the two suspected engines in the first stage of the Falcon 9 on the GPS 3 SV04 mission, and then performed a test launch of the missile on Saturday at Platform 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. That gave officials enough confidence to move forward with the countdown to Thursday’s GPS launch.

A review of Merlin engines across the SpaceX missile fleet found that two Falcon 9 rocket engines for the Crew Dragon flight were showing similar early start-up signatures to the engines on the launch pad for the GPS mission.

SpaceX said last week that it would replace these two engines on its Falcon 9 launcher for the Crew Dragon mission. An engine problem delayed the launch of the Crew Dragon from October 31 to November 14.

Steve Stitch, NASA’s Commercial Crew Program Manager, said last week that the agency’s engineers wanted to review engine data from the Global Positioning System (GPS) launch before evacuating the Crew Dragon to take off later this month.

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