A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Thursday night to put another GPS satellite into orbit for the U.S. Space Force.
The Falcon 9 lifted off on time at 6:24 p.m. About 8 minutes later, the rocket’s reusable booster landed on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship.
The launch was delayed from October after the engines shut themselves down seconds before liftoff. Inspection revealed that two of the nine Merlin engines used in the first stage booster had a residual lacquer similar to red nail polish that was blocking vent holes on the engines, and causing them to ignite quicker than the other seven.
The issue, the result of a cleaning process, was also found in engines planned for other SpaceX launches, including the next Crew Dragon mission, causing that mission to be delayed as well.
“This was a really great find, » a SpaceX employee said during Thursday evening’s launch live stream. “It allowed our teams to fix something that is very subtle but can have some negative impact on the engine behavior, as well as allowed us to make sure that we can prevent this from happening again in the future.”
The mission was the fourth of 10 planned launches to get the GPS III satellites into orbit as part of an ongoing replacement plan for the array of navigation satellites used by billions of people that first made it into space in 1978. The satellite joins 31 others already in orbit.
Lockheed Martin is the primary contractor for the satellites and is on tap to roll out and launch the next six by 2023, after which it’s contracted for up to 22 more of an enhanced version of the satellite called the GPS IIIF.
The GPS III model has a lifespan of 15 years, which is 25% longer than the spate of satellites it’s replacing, according to Lockheed Martin. The first of this new generation launched in late 2018.
It comes one day after United Launch Alliance was set to launch an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral with a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office but was scrubbed because of valve issue, forcing a delay to at least Friday, although ULA has yet to officially announce a new launch window.
Both ULA and SpaceX have endured a series of scrubs in the last several weeks, with many space enthusiasts referring to October as “Scrubtober.”
SpaceX did manage to launch three Starlink missions, though, despite some delays during the month.
SpaceX, Falcon 9, United States Space Force, GPS Block III
World news – GB – SpaceX launches GPS satellite for Space Force after engine issues delayed last month’s attempt