SpaceX and Space Force set to launch long-delayed GPS mission


SpaceX shared this scenic view of the Falcon 9 that will carry Space Force’s GPS satellite into orbit. 


More than a month after a last-second scrub, SpaceX says it’s now ready to launch the latest US Space Force mission atop a Falcon 9 rocket later this week.

The payload is a third-generation military GPS satellite that was initially set for blastoff in late September but then got pushed back a few days. It came close to launching on Oct. 2, but the launch was aborted with just two seconds to go on the countdown clock.

The unexpected issue led to a few other delays, notably of NASA’s Crew-1 mission to send four astronauts to the International Space Station aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, out of concern that the issue could crop up on other Merlin engines.

An investigation revealed that a bit of “masking lacquer” had blocked a relief valve line, causing two of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines to attempt to fire early. The suspect engines were swapped out and new launch dates set.

Now the static test fire for the rocket that will launch the GPS III Space Vehicle (SV) 04 has been completed, and SpaceX says it expects liftoff from Cape Canaveral in Florida Thursday evening.

The first-stage booster for this mission will be making its first flight and will attempt to land on a droneship in the Atlantic less than 10 minutes after liftoff. It’s not clear whether SpaceX will try to recover the nose cone halves as well.

The launch is set for a 15-minute window that opens at 3:24 p.m. PT (6:24 p.m. Florida time), and you can watch it unfold via the feed above.

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