SpaceX launches first U.S. national security space mission

FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo

(Reuters) – A SpaceX rocket carrying a US military satellite navigation system blasted off from Florida’s Cape Canaveral on Sunday, the marking of the space transportation is the first national security space mission for the United States.

The Falcon 9 rocket is approximately $500 million GPS satellite built by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) lifted from Cape Canaveral at 8:51 pm local time (1351 GMT). The previous four planned launches in the past week, including one on Saturday were cancelled due to weather and technical problems.

The successful launch is an important victory for billionaire Elon Musk’s privately held rocket company, who has spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co (BA.N).

SpaceX sued the U.S. air force in 2014 about the military award 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 satellite is the first launch of 32 in the production by Lockheed under contracts worth a combined $12.6 billion for the air force GPS III program, according to Lockheed spokesman Chip Eschenfelder.

The launch was originally scheduled for 2014, but has been hobbled by production delays, the air force 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.

Additional reporting by Eric M. Johnson and Gina Cherelus; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Daniel Wallis

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