(Reuters) – Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX is scheduled on Saturday for the launch of a long-delayed U.S. military navigation satellite, which, if successful, would mark the rocket is the first national security space mission for the United States.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the planned launch of a U. S. Air Force navigation satellite, sits on Launch Complex 40 after the launch was delayed after an aborted procedure was set in motion by the on board computer, on Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA, 18 December 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius
A Falcon 9 rocket carrying a roughly $500 million GPS satellite built by Lockheed Martin Corp was due to blast off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral around 9 am (1400 GMT), private company, SpaceX said.
A successful start – SpaceX’s fourth attempt in a week, after technical and weather delays – would be a major victory for the Musk rocket company, who has spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches long dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co.
SpaceX sued the U.S. air force in 2014 in protest over the military, the awarding of a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract for 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed. It dropped the lawsuit in 2015 after the Air Force agreed to open for competition.
The next year, SpaceX won a $83 million air force contract for the launch of the GPS III satellite, which have a lifespan of 15 years.
The launch would be the first of 32 satellites in production by Lockheed under contracts worth a combined $12.6 billion for the air force GPS III program, Lockheed spokesman Chip Eschenfelder said.
Air Force spokesman William Russell said: “Once fully operational, this latest generation of GPS satellites brings new opportunities to users, including three times better accuracy and up to eight times the anti-jamming capabilities.”
The launch was originally scheduled for 2014, but has been hobbled by production delays, the air force said.
It would mark SpaceX’s first so-called National Security Space mission, as defined by the U.S. military, SpaceX said.
The next GPS III satellite is due to launch mid-2019, Eschenfelder said, while in later satellites are undergoing testing in the company’s Colorado processing facility.
Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by James Dalgleish