For the third time since COVID-19 changed the way The Aerospace Corporation does business, we successfully used a highly distributed remote STARS capability to support a national security launch. On Tuesday, June 30, the SpaceX Falcon 9 F9-085 vehicle lifted off at 16:10:46 EDT from SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and successfully lofted the GPS III-3 spacecraft to its medium Earth orbit (MEO) transfer orbit. Built by Lockheed Martin, GPS III-3 is the third satellite to be deployed in the third-generation Global Positioning System. GPS III satellites provide three times greater accuracy and greatly enhanced anti-jamming capability relative to their predecessors.
The F9-085 mission utilized a Falcon 9 Upgrade Block 5 vehicle to launch GPS III-3 into MEO transfer orbit. The F9-085 first stage booster and fairing were first-use items, and this was the first National Security Space Launch mission to include recovery of the first stage booster, which landed on a downrange drone ship.
Although the launch vehicle may have looked the same, the vehicle that launched today had undergone significant changes from the vehicle that flew GPS III-2 in December 2018, resulting in opportunities for risk reduction, but also requiring significant efforts by the team to verify them. At the same time, great progress was made in using agile techniques to create new efficiencies in our mission assurance processes, increasing efficiency to reduce the resources and manpower required for recurring mission assurance.
The significant achievements of the team were highlighted at both Aerospace’s own internal review and at the Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Flight Readiness Review. SMC Commander, Lt. Gen. John Thompson, thanked the Aerospace team for the outstanding work in risk reduction and execution efficiency, as well as the dedication to the mission under these difficult, but “new normal”, conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, just when the team thought they were ready to go, they were challenged with two new issues the weekend before the launch. Once again, the Aerospace team surged into action, going above and beyond the call of duty, working long hours throughout the weekend to verify the changes in time for the final readiness reviews on Monday. They again received kudos for their outstanding work from Gen. Thompson. COVID-19 or not, the Aerospace “new normal” looks a lot like the old normal – technical excellence and dedication to mission success!
Watch the launch, courtesy of SpaceX below: