SpaceX successfully launches satellite for national security mission

A SpaceX rocket carrying a U.S. military navigation satellite blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral on Sunday, marking the first launch of a series of satellites for a U.S. national security space mission.

Weather had delayed the milestone launch for Elon Musk's privately held rocket company

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday. The payload on the rocket is the U.S. Air Force's first Global Positioning System III space vehicle and the system will augment 31 current operational GPS satellites. (Craig Bailey/Florida Today/Associated Press)

A SpaceX rocket carrying a U.S. military navigation satellite blasted off from Florida's Cape Canaveral on Sunday, marking the first launch of a series of satellites for a U.S. national security space mission.

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a roughly $500-million US GPS satellite built by Lockheed Martin lifted off from Cape Canaveral at 8:51 a.m. ET. The launch had been rescheduled earlier in the week because of the weather. 

The successful launch is a significant victory for Elon Musk's privately held rocket company, which has spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co. 

This next-generation GPS satellite is three times more accurate than previous versions and eight times better at anti-jamming, according to Heather Wilson, secretary of the Air Force. It's the first in a series and nicknamed Vespucci after the 15th-century Italian explorer who calculated Earth's circumference to within 80 kilometres.

Legal battles, delays

SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in 2014 over the military's award of a multi-billion-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 up competition. 

The next year, SpaceX won an $83-million Air Force contract to launch the GPS III satellite, which will have a lifespan of  15 years. 

The satellite is the first to launch out of 32 in 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 first 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 in mid-2019, Eschenfelder said, while subsequent satellites undergo testing in the company's Colorado processing facility. 

With files from The Associated Press

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