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SpaceX fired a new GPS satellite into orbit on behalf of the US military on Wednesday, continuing an effort to bolster the constellation of global positioning and navigation satellites that underpin smartphone apps, wartime operations and more.
The GPS satellite launched aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 7:24 a.m. ET from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.
SpaceX confirmed the satellite had been deployed in a subsequent tweet featuring video of the moment.
The mission carried the sixth spacecraft in a new generation of GPS satellites, called GPS III, to an orbit about 12,550 miles (20,200 km) above the Earth’s surface, where more than 30 GPS satellites are currently operating. They swing around the planet once about every 12 hours and constantly beam radio signals to determine the precise location of objects on the ground. The next-generation GPS III satellites, built by Lockheed Martin, will modernize that system, with plans to build up to 32 of the satellites, including the six that have launched since 2019.
Though GPS services are routinely used by smartphones, Lockheed Martin notes on its website that it also serves military purposes.
“Space has become a more contested environment — with more-competitive adversaries,” the company’s website reads. “Our warfighters need enhanced capabilities to take on evolving threats. The need to return the focus on GPS as a ‘warfighting system’ has never been clearer.”
The previous generation of GPS satellites began entering service in the late 1990s.
After Falcon 9 launched from Cape Canaveral and expended most of its fuel, the first stage — the large bottommost portion that gives the initial thrust at liftoff — detached from the rocket’s second stage and the satellite and returned to a pinpoint landing on a platform at sea. It’s a routine maneuver for SpaceX, which regularly recovers and reuses its rockets to drive down costs.
The first-stage rocket booster used Wednesday previously launched SpaceX’s Crew-5 mission, which carried four astronauts to the International Space Station in October 2022.