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GPS III Space Vehicle No. 1 “Vespucci” Arrives in Florida, Prepares for December Launch

GPS III Space Vehicle No. 1

A government and contractor team loads the first GPS III satellite for transport aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Aug. 20 at Buckley AFB, Colorado to begin processing for a December launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lt. Col. Erin Gulden)

LOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif --  

The U.S. Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) Global Positioning Systems (GPS) Directorate achieved a major program milestone Aug. 21, successfully delivering the first GPS III satellite to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida to begin launch processing.

“The shipment of the first GPS III satellite to the launch processing facility is a hallmark achievement for the program,” said Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, SMC commander and Air Force program executive officer for Space. “The modernization of GPS has been an outstanding collaborative effort and this brings us another step closer to launch.”            

The satellite, dubbed “Vespucci” in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for whom the Americas were named, was transported in a custom container from the Lockheed Martin factory facility in Waterton, Colorado to the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida, by a C-17 Globemaster III originating from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington.  The transportation crew consisted of both contractor and government personnel who oversaw the entire operation to ensure that the conditions of the transport environment would not damage any of the satellite’s sensitive components.

The delivery of Satellite Vehicle 01 (SV01) starts the clock for final testing and checkout of the space vehicle prior to launch. The satellite will be processed at the Astrotech Space Operations Florida facility. A government and contractor team will ensure the integrity of the satellite after shipment by performing a Mission Readiness Test to verify the health and safety of the vehicle, as well as communication compatibility with the ground operations center. The team will then prepare for propellant loading and encapsulate the satellite in its protective fairing. At the completion of these activities, the satellite will be headed for a first of its kind horizontal integration with the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle.


“While the launch of the last GPS IIF satellite marked the end of an era, the upcoming GPS III launch will be the start of a brand new one,” said Col. Steven Whitney, director of the GPS Directorate. “It is the first of our new GPS III satellites, first to integrate with a SpaceX rocket, first to interact with elements of GPS’ Next Generation Operational Control System (OCX) Block 0, and first to have spacecraft acquisition and on-orbit checkout from Lockheed Martin facilities. We are excited to be at this point and we are ready for the upcoming launch of Vespucci.”


The modernized GPS III SV01 is slated to launch in December. It will augment the current constellation of 31 operational GPS satellites. GPS delivers the gold standard in positioning, navigation, and timing services supporting vital U.S. and allied operations worldwide, and underpins critical financial, transportation, and agricultural infrastructure that billions of users have come to depend on daily.


Media representatives who would like to interview a subject matter expert or learn more about the GPS III SV01 launch, send an email to smcpa.media@us.af.mil