The Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) announced Tuesday it would reschedule the launch of the GPS III SV03 satellite “to minimize the potential of COVID-19 exposure to the launch crew and early-orbit operators.”
Originally scheduled for late April 2020 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the launch is now projected to go up no earlier than June 30. The schedule will be re-evaluated in May, SMC said in a statement.
“We do not make this decision lightly, however, given our GPS constellation remains strong, we have the opportunity to make a deliberate decision to maintain our mission assurance posture, without introducing additional health risk to personnel or mission risk to the launch,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, SMC commander and program executive officer for space.
The current constellation is healthy, SMC said, with 31 satellites on orbit, allowing the team to take this strategic pause without gaps in coverage or capability.
GPS III-3 brings the third modernized GPS III satellite to the operational GPS mission, and the team remains ready to execute. GPS III will bring three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability than its predecessor.
“The GPS system supports vital U.S. and allied operations worldwide, unabated. As the COVID-19 pandemic is a threat to national security, likewise, rescheduling the launch is in the interest of national security,” said Gen. Thompson. “We have to get it right the first time, and protecting our people is just as important as cost, schedule, and performance.”
SMC still plans to complete the next three GPS launches in 2020.
Photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch courtesy of Space and Missile Systems Center.