SpaceX has been making headline news with its commercial space missions and most notably about its reusable Falcon 9 rocket and more recently for its Falcon Heavy partially reusable heavy-lift launch rocket.
This week, the private space exploration company founded by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk successfully launched the United States Air Force’s first Global Positioning System III space vehicle (SV01).
The Falcon 9 rocket was carrying Lockheed Martin Corp’s $500 million GPS payload named Vespucci. The space mission blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral at 8:51 am local time on Sunday. Four previously scheduled launches for GPS III had to be canceled last week due to weather and technical factors.
SpaceX breaks Boeing-Lockheed monopoly in Space mission market
For decades, few companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin dominated the lucrative space mission sector. In 2014, SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force over the non-competition contract for 36 space missions awarded to United Launch Alliance which represented both Boeing and Lockheed. Subsequently, in 2015 U.S. Air Force opened the space mission market for companies like SpaceX under open competition.
In 2016, SpaceX won $83 million contract from U.S. Air Force to launch its new GPS satellites. The Sunday’s space launch is the first of a series of 32 space missions. Lockheed Martin is still the payload provider. The company is supplying the military satellite worth $12.6 billion under the GPS III program.
The Lockheed-SpaceX space program has a lifespan of 15 years. However, the main determinant for the speed of the satellite launches will be the production of Lockheed’s GPS systems. This is because SpaceX has Falcon heavy ready should any of the future missions require a heavy-lift launch rocket.
According to Lockheed Martin spokesperson, Chip Eschenfelder, the next GPS III satellite launch is scheduled for mid-2019. Meanwhile, Lockheed is busy testing its next GPS satellite at the company’s Colorado processing facility.