SpaceX Launches 21st & Final Mission of 2018

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla. (SpaceX PR) — On Sunday, December 23rd at 5:51 a.m. PST, SpaceX successfully launched the United States Air Force’s first Global Positioning System III space vehicle (SV) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The satellite was deployed to its intended orbit approximately 1 hour and 56 minutes after liftoff.

The United States’ Global Positioning System delivers 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.

The Launch Facility

The United States Air Force’s first GPS III satellite will augment the current constellation of 31 operational GPS satellites. This newest generation of GPS satellites is designed and built to deliver positioning, navigation, and timing information with three times better accuracy, and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability. GPS is used by over four billion users and supports critical missions worldwide.

GPS is a National Security Space (NSS) mission, critical to national defense. In April 2016, SpaceX was awarded its first NSS mission, GPS III SV01. SpaceX currently has an additional four GPS III missions on contract, all of which will be launched on Falcon 9.

Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida SpaceX’s SLC-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is a world-class launch site that builds on a strong heritage. The site, located at the north end of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, was used for many years to launch Titan rockets, among the most powerful in the U.S. fleet. SpaceX took over the facility in May 2008.

The center of the complex is composed of the concrete launch pad and flame diverter system. Surrounding the pad are four lightning towers, propellant storage tanks, and the integration hangar. Before launch, Falcon 9’s stages and payload are housed inside the hangar. The payload is mated to the Falcon 9 inside SLC-40’s hangar on the transporter erector. The rocket and payload are then rolled out from the hangar to the launch pad and lifted to a vertical position.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The rest of the aerospace world really needs to take a cue from Space X launch coverage. The raw vid from the stages during boost and coast are just incredible and building a solid backing in the ‘civilian’ world. If they won’t adopt Space X’s systems concepts at least copy their PR and outreach. The extended views of Earth during coast were very enjoyable. Not to mention the city lights of Florida that could be seen from the first stage on boost are just stunning works of art.

  • Cameron

    Agreed. There is a lot of mocking of ‘SpaceX fanboys’ and so on, but SpaceX has EARNED their popularity with their inclusion of the public at large in their successes and failures. Pushing the limits and doing exciting things helps also. Other companies are certainly doing the latter, but if little or nothing is known about it – no one really cares.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    Wow, 21 launches. I remember being impressed when not too long ago ULA managed 12 launches in 12 months. Kudos SpaceX staff! I know they work you very hard – I hope you find some time to relax in the next week.

  • duheagle

    The only outfit that even approximates SpaceX’s quality of webcast launch coverage is Rocket Lab. RL has pretty definitely watched SpaceX launches and taken notes. SpaceX’s coverage of stuff in real-time from orbit remains unmatched because RL hasn’t yet got access to a true world-girdling network of ground stations to which on-board cam footage can be downlinked in real time. But that will come. RL really is SpaceX’s Mini-Me.

  • SamuelRoman13

    LOL. USAF does not use GPS. They use INS which can not be jammed and is more accurate. They put up GPS to mislead our enemies and for civilians. Sweden said recently in a military exercise that their GPS signals were jammed. When was that when you got lost driving to the airport? More deception from the military. They use INS. It would be stupid to use GPS in war. Cars and small private planes need GPS because it is cheap. China might could make INS cheap though. The NAV airman told me that F-4(’50s) could take off, do a full mission, like Dog Fighting, and park in the same spot and the Lat- Long. would be exactly the same. A magic box to some.

  • Jeff2Space

    I do not think that INS is quite the silver bullet that you’re touting it to be. Aircraft will use the higher accuracy military GPS when available because every INS system will “drift” over time. Modern ring laser gyroscope based systems are less prone to drift than the older mechanical systems, but they do drift. That said, if GPS is lost during a mission, the fallback for the aircraft is INS. I’m not sure what the fallback is for GPS guided munitions when GPS fails.

  • Robert G. Oler

    how big do you think the audience is? I think its only space geeks…

  • Robert G. Oler

    thats not accurate. this satellite is essential to the USAF and military mission, as well as PBN for commercial airlines

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    We hear the space geeks. But really in the end what’s wrong with space geeks? Sure they drive unrealistic expectations. But that’s a malfunction that’s going on in all social groups. It’s better than having unrealistic expectations of Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin. There are far worse things to love enthusiastically than space travel in general and Space X specifically. I don’t know what got you into engineering and being a pilot, but for me it was not the paycheck. Or the reactions when I take a date up for a flight in a hot cramped smelly airplane. I do it because I love it. Like you, I assume, my enthusiasms are very governed by the important task at hand of being safe while aviating navigating and communicating the airplane, and doing my part at keeping the airspace functional. But after securing the airplane I can still get that pitter patter of the heart when I take in the activities of the surrounding flight line and reviewing the flight in my head. I don’t really love aviation when I’m flying. I’m too busy doing it. But afterwards I still do. Very much the same for engineering. But it was my love that got me here.

    Space X pumping up the community is both functional and dysfunctional. Real world negative feedback is more than enough to negate the detrimental effect of the malfunction. So what if a 20 something today won’t have the option to go to Mars when until they’re in their 50’s instead of their 30’s? If they push themselves to go work on a Mars project, great. It’s better than having them go into economics and drive the economy to deep debt failure, or go into business and be the best at technology transfer from the US to whatever nations is willing to trade paper money for real industry. There’s far worse a technically inclined person can do with their time than follow the likes of Elon Musk. Look at his snake oil.

    Solar Power
    Electric Cars.
    Smart Power Grids.
    Mass Electrical Storage.
    Refurbishable Rockets.
    Mass Rocket Engine Manufacturing.

    What’s wrong with that list?

    It’s a heck of a lot better than having engineers working for GE making gas turbines for Chinese missile cruisers or for Westinghouse teaching them to breed plutonium so they can make a nuclear counter force capability aimed at us.

    Space X on the balance, in real world terms is better than most other over-hyped leaders. It’s up to people like you and me to be like a lathe tool and not stop the rotation, but to machine off little bits and pieces here and there.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You obviously were not paying attention to armaments in the latter two decades of the 20th cen.

  • Robert G. Oler

    I don’t really love aviation when I’m flying. I’m too busy doing it.”

    see that is where we are a little different…I think of flying like “making love” …doing it is it. there is thinking about it afterwards but to me that is the “work”…ie trying to figure out how to do it better… the joy is doing it

    I grew up at the feet of people who had fought in WW2 and been in aviation (mostly commercial) afterwards…the joy to them, what they talked about was not what the missions were (most hated bombing or shooting down other planes) but the precision of making the tools do what they wanted them to do

    the joy for me is making the airplane do exactly what “I” want it to do to do the mission…and I dont care how I do that.. through the stick (control wheel) or the automation…everyweek we get “performance analysis” as to how efficent fuel and time wise the trip was, how technically exacting the entire phase of the flight was…and I reveal in the “doing” of those things

    where I part ways with most of “todays” Space geeks is 1) the exclusive nature of their geekery…ie the SpaceX motif, 2) the complete abandonment of reality in their geekery. (ie the “wow its a conspiracy to stop SpaceX from doing this or that) and 3) the notion that they would hitch space policy to a guy …MUsk who more and more is talking many magnitudes above his actual performance (which is quite impressive on its own)

    all these things have reached a near absurdity. “The USAF would not let SpaceX reuse the first stage because (insert favorite NASAspaceflight conspiracy theory here and there are several)” is just goofy…but its right along with “NASA is slowing SpaceX down from being the first to fly commercial crew to let Boeing suceed”


    I understand the problem…2001 was a good forecast in 1968 but we are several years past that and really the progress in 68 is starting to look far better. but in my view what that means is that we have not asked the hard questions and instead have had to much “fantasy island”

    but the music on the coast is cool 🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    So you do understand their POV. 🙂 Yes I think you hit their malfunction on the head. Imagine you never developed your love of aviation as well as you have. What would you be on the outside looking in? What if your only exposure to aviation was visiting, and the other aviation blogs and going to airshows , but never having been trained, dealt with the realities of flying, let alone have become a test pilot and an ATP? My bet is if your love of aviation was unrequited, you’d come out of that path jaded, and to some degree inconsolable. You might even be angry that Concorde was retired and still harbor anger at the Congressmen who killed the Boeing 2707.

  • Robert G. Oler

    🙂 Yes

    a “guess” is that unlike aviation…space flight by humans just came to early. it was forced on humanity by the cold war (I guess as well that had the Nazis somehow “won” WW2…ie the US never intervenes or something else of the “as a miracle” occurs its possible the Reich activities would have spurred it)…and just came to early to be really practical except in the venue of spurring “modern science fiction” the best of which is 2001 (and to some extent 2010).

    One of my favorite, have some Jack and mellow out shows is Robinson Cursoe on Mars…its a great plot but little else.

    had we not had the cold war…in another 50 to 75 years (ie about now) we would be on the verge of maybe giving it a try with humans…

    but what happened is that now we have an entire group of people who simply believe in a fantasy….that cannot happen and are not open to discussions of reality

    I really have no frame of reference for how the SpaceX geeks are. I have no real appitites like that in any thing of interest in my life. the closest to it is large sailboat racing…(aka the movie Wind) but on the various sites dedicated to large sailboat racing…there are a lot of folks who are just like the SpaceX geeks…they have never ever sailed a large racer in their lives…but are experts on it. I’ve never sailed a large racer in my life…but I dont pretend to be critical of the decisions made by various people who do 🙂

    I enjoy the sport but dont need to express that by well fan boying 🙂

    there are spaceX fan boys approaching Trek status 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler
  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    2001 and 2010 …. Humanity runs on controlled fusion power. When you have that, it’s Norwegian levels of wealth for everyone. Or at least could be. Who knows what the world’s savage religions will do when they’re given access to something like fusion. It could be really bad. Oil and Islam don’t mix all that well. Yes, space travel is the afterbirth of the union of nuclear weaponry and rocket artillery. You make fun of the concept of the fan boys seeing ‘plots around every corner’ against space travel. There is a saying within the mil-space community, “It’s not about space travel.”. In the Cold War there were people like McNamara who were afraid NASA was going to capture the focus of the population and create public pressure away from the focus on ICBMs and SLBMs. From their POV the tail could very much have wagged the dog. Those pressures are there, not as much as they were in the past. My opinion on the ‘slowness’ of space travel is as you pointed out the immaturity of the field, lack of economic tie in, lack of nuclear level energy sources we can control, the typical human social malfunctions that arise from our natural endowments as individuals and groups. When you look at the sequence of the development of wooden ships on the global oceans, we’re not doing so bad. But we’ve been looking to aviation as a guide and that’s unrealistic. Aviation grew up in an era of logistics with ships, trains, and automobile transport. Airplanes could plug right into that economy. Not to mention airplanes could become an extension of artillery, recon navigation, communications, and military logistics. Lacking the augmentation of logistics, space has suffered.

  • Robert G. Oler

    . Oil and Islam don’t mix all that well”

    Oil and Christianity or American Imperialism dont mix that well…the US and the UK lite off the current savagery in the Mideast with the coup in Iran…and continued it with the coup based on lies in Iraq.

    right wing Christians inthe US are our curse, they are the nation of nationalism and religion all in one to create the American taliban

    there is a great line from Clarke’s book which spawned 2001…sorry I dont have the book in front of me…but Heywood floyd is flying up to the space station and reading his “IPAD” (LOL) when he reads about the latest effort by the Chinese …and remarks along the lines that “war is the most exciting thing in humanity except space travel just not everyone has come to see that” or something…I will have to go find my book if you want to challenge me on that but I am quite confident int he quote (I have used it in Space News Articles)

    the plots spaceX fan boys see is well nothing more than nuttery. Humans will move into space when there is an economic reason to do so. all the folks in my family who came from Europe to the US …or moved from the US to the Pacific, the PI…yes a branch of the family is in Manilla…all went for economic reasons.

    so far now soap …

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    You must be away from the US for some time. The American religious right is not the Taliban. They’re like any right wing movement. Ignorant of history, ignorant of the rest of the world, and confuse fear with respect. They’re a problem yes. And precipitated probably the most stupid and ill conceived American foreign adventures in American history. However right that may be does not negate the fact in front of our eyes that the Islamic world is a mess and when left to themselves make a mess worse than colonizing them made. Even their only functional states like the UAE are amusement parks run by foreign guest workers. Just look at the gap the Israelis opened between themselves and everyone else in the region. Yes, any religious right wing is a problem, but Islam is a set of problems in a class of their own.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    This was meant to be a rhetorical question but it has an actual answer.

    GPS III – 607,136 views
    FH Demo 1 – 23,496,944 views
    Scott Manley talking about Starship – 279,519 views

    CNN 944,000 viewers from 8 to 11 p.m. EST.

    So a significant fraction of what CNN draws on a random primetime night saw the GPS III mission, that’s a lot of space geeks…