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The US Space Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC) has rescheduled the launch of GPS III SV03 (GPS III-3) to minimise the exposure of coronavirus (Covid-19) to the launch crew and early orbit operators.
The launch was originally scheduled for late April 2020 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The projected launch date is after 30 June, pending a re-evaluation in May.
The current GPS constellation continues to function, allowing a pause in the launch of the next GPS without operational impact.
SMC commander and programme executive officer lieutenant general John Thompson said: “We do not make this decision lightly, however, given our GPS constellation remains strong, we have the opportunity to make a deliberate decision to maintain our mission assurance posture, without introducing additional health risk to personnel or mission risk to the launch.”
Under the GPS mission, GPS III-3 is the third modernised GPS III satellite with better accuracy. The newly developed satellite will have an improved anti-jamming capability.
The current constellation comprises 31 satellites on orbit.
SMC targets to conclude the next three launches this year.
Thompson added: “The GPS system supports vital US and allied operations worldwide, unabated. As the Covid-19 pandemic is a threat to national security, likewise, rescheduling the launch is in the interest of national security.
“We have to get it right the first time, and protecting our people is just as important as cost, schedule, and performance.”
SMC’s Production Corps produces and delivers GPS satellites, ground systems and military user equipment for the US Space Force.
It is working with Lockheed Martin Space to enable the production and delivery of new warfighting capabilities for the satellite by 2023.
Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division chief colonel Edward Byrne said: “Some of the steps include procedural and facility modifications at the GPS III Launch and Checkout Capability (LCC) operations centre and reducing the onsite crew size to provide adequate physical distancing, per CDC guidelines.”