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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

SpaceX launches a Space Force GPS satellite while chasing record

Elon Musk’s company conducts its third launch since sending NASA astronauts to the space station on May 30.
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SpaceX Falcon 9 launch

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, perched atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, takes off from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying two NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on May 30. 


SpaceX

SpaceX sent a military GPS satellite into space Tuesday for the US Space Force using a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

This is the company’s third launch since its historic flight of NASA astronauts to the International Space Station on May 30, and for the first time it has landed and recovered one of its rockets after deploying a military satellite. The Falcon 9 first stage landed on the droneship Just Read The Instructions eight minutes after launch.

Liftoff! pic.twitter.com/E2xaQQNw1w

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 30, 2020

The mission is the company’s 11th launch of 2020. Continuing this intense pace of launches would allow Elon Musk’s commercial space startup to pretty easily set a company record for most launches in a year. 

The company launched another military GPS satellite in 2018. At the time, the US Air Force determined that SpaceX would not be able to perform the needed flight trajectory and also land the first-stage booster, according to SpaceNews.

Since then, SpaceX and the US military have negotiated changes in its GPS mission requirements and the cost of launch to enable SpaceX to attempt landing its first stage after lofting the satellite on Tuesday. 

More to come soon

SpaceX had also scheduled its second Starlink ride-share mission for last week, but the launch was postponed, with July 8 as the new targeted launch date.

“Team needed additional time for prelaunch checkouts, but Falcon 9 and the satellites are healthy,” SpaceX tweeted a couple of hours before the scheduled launch time on Friday. 

Standing down from today’s Starlink mission; team needed additional time for pre-launch checkouts, but Falcon 9 and the satellites are healthy. Will announce new target launch date once confirmed on the Range

— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 26, 2020

SpaceX had its most active year so far in 2018 with 21 launches. It’s now on pace to eclipse that mark in 2020, perhaps hitting 38 launches for the year if its plans pan out. The company hopes to continue packing its calendar with more liftoffs, aiming for 70 missions in 2023, according to a draft filing with the Federal Aviation Administration earlier this year. 

Many of the launches will be Starlink missions, as SpaceX looks to put tens of thousands of its small satellites in orbit this decade. The company has also begun conducting ride-share launches, making room for a few commercial payloads alongside a batch of Starlink birds. 

The next Starlink launch is set to be the second Starlink ride share, this time with two Earth-observing microsatellites for Black Sky, a company that provides high-def satellite imagery.

SpaceX is trying expand the size of its growing constellation to nearly 600 satellites and closer to the threshold of 800 flying routers that Musk has said would allow for limited broadband service to begin.  

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