The US Air Force’s (USAF) first advanced Global Positioning System III space vehicle (GPS III SV01) satellite has been encapsulated for launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

Built by Lockheed Martin, the satellite was enclosed and sealed in an aerodynamic, nose-cone shell launch fairing, which will be mounted on to the rocket for liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, US, on 18 December.

GPS III SV01 is the first of ten GPS III satellites currently under full production at the company’s advanced $128m GPS III processing facility near Denver.

The satellite successfully completed pre-launch processing, fuelling and encapsulation at Astrotech Space Operations, in Titusville, Florida. It is nicknamed ‘Vespucci’ after Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.

Lockheed Martin navigation systems vice-president Johnathon Caldwell said: “The world is dependent on GPS. More than four billion military, commercial and civilian users connect with signals generated by GPS satellites every day.

“The launch of GPS III SV01 will be the first step in modernising the airforce’s GPS constellation with the most powerful and resilient GPS satellites ever designed and built.”

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“GPS III is expected to perform with three times increased accuracy and offer up to eight times enhanced anti-jamming capabilities.”

The satellite will be the first GPS system that would broadcast the new L1C civil signal, which will increase connectivity for civilian users.

The new design of GPS satellites will offer advanced capabilities to the US and allied military forces while extending the spacecraft life to 15 years.

In addition, GPS III is expected to perform with three times increased accuracy and offer up to eight times enhanced anti-jamming capabilities.

The third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth GPS III satellites are at different stages of assembly and testing.

The second GPS III Space Vehicle 02 (GPS III SV02) was declared as ‘available for launch’ by the USAF in 2019.

Lockheed Martin was selected in September for a contract to supply 22 GPS III Follow-On satellites to the USAF for an estimated amount of up to $7.2bn.