Storms halt SpaceX’s first U.S. national security space mission

(Reuters) – Thunderstorms forced Elon Musk’s SpaceX to suspend Thursday at the launch of a satellite navigation for the U.S. army, which was ready to be of 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/File Photo

SpaceX said the Falcon 9 rocket and the cargo, an approximately $500 million GPS satellite built by Lockheed Martin Corp, were “in good health” and that it was now aimed at a Saturday morning launch from Florida’s Cape Canaveral.

The cancellation, which followed two previous launch attempts this week were scrubbed for technical reasons, came as thunderstorms and gusts of wind swirled around the launch of the site.

Patrick Burke, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, said the weather may not clear until Saturday.

A successful launch would be a major victory for Musk, a billionaire and Tesla Inc chief executive, who spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches, long dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co.

It would be marked SpaceX’s first so-called National Security Space mission, as defined by the U.S. military, SpaceX said.

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 in 2016 and 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.

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 Rich McKay in Atlanta, Peter Szekely in New York, and Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Additional reporting by Joey Roulette in Seattle; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Steve Orlofsky

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