SpaceX rocket launches next-gen GPS satellite at last

Artist’s rendering of a GPS III satellite in orbit.

The weather was favorable, all systems were go. After a week of delays, SpaceX on Sunday finally launched a satellite that will kick off a new era for GPS navigation technology.

At just before 6 a.m. PT, SpaceX tweeted simply “Liftoff!” and the Falcon 9 rocket was on its way.

The rocket was carrying the US Air Force’s GPS III SV01 satellite, the first in series of new satellite designs that will update the Global Positioning System. Still used and maintained by the military, the array of GPS satellites also now has become a part of the everyday fabric of life for just about everyone. It’s in the palm of your hand, for instance, whenever you get directions to a store or restaurant on your smartphone.

Two hours after the launch, the satellite separated from the rocket and began its orbit.

Launch dates for the mission had come and gone with some regularity. They’d been set for September and October and then again for this month. In just the last week, SpaceX had been ready to go on several occasions, only to face delays because of technical issues (Tuesday and Wednesday) and uncooperative weather (Thursday and Saturday).

In contrast with other recent Falcon 9 launches, SpaceX won’t attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket.

SpaceX didn’t immediately respond to a request for further comment.

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