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SpaceX is ready to launch its first mission for the U.S. Air Force on Tuesday from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
This launch will be SpaceX’s 21st mission this year, a record for the company. On board the Falcon 9 rocket is the first of the Air Force’s new GPS (Global Positioning System) satellites. Called GPS III, the satellites are “three times more accurate than what we have in operation now,” Lockheed Martin’s Johnathon Caldwell, the company’s vice president of navigation systems, told CNBC. Lockheed Martin is building the satellites for the Air Force.
“There’s been a lot of collaboration, not just with the Air Force but also with SpaceX,” Caldwell said of this launch’s significance.
Vice President Mike Pence is at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the launch. Afterwards Pence is reportedly expected to announce that President Donald Trump will establish the U.S. Space Command as a separate military branch in an executive order before the end of the year.
SpaceX will not attempt to land the Falcon 9 rocket’s booster after this launch, as the Air Force requires a large amount of performance to send the satellite to orbit. This is the first of five GPS III launch contracts won by SpaceX. The Air Force is paying SpaceX about $95 million per launch for these satellites, a steep discount compared to national security launches in years past. SpaceX took share of the military launch market from United Launch Alliance (ULA) – the joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin – which had cornered the market. While ULA is developing a new range of offerings to compete with SpaceX, those new rockets are still several years away from operations.
With Elon Musk’s space company continuing to prove its reliability, the Air Force is making it clear that the rocket-launching business is entering a new era of competition.
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