SpaceX launches Space Force satellite on recycled rocket booster

Liftoff at 12:09 p.m. Thursday from Cape Canaveral

SpaceX sticks the landing on its droneship on its mission to send a GPS device into space on June 17, 2021. (SpaceX/YouTube, SpaceX/YouTube)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A U.S. Space Force navigation satellite hitched a ride into space Thursday on a reused Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, a first for a National Security Space Launch mission.

The rocket launched the fifth Global Positioning System III satellite for the Space Force from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station Launch Complex 40 at 12:09 p.m. into a partially cloudy sky. Weather officers with the 45th Weather Squadron predicted favorable launch conditions but showers were a possibility.

The Pentagon recently approved SpaceX to fly national security missions on flight-proven or used rocket hardware.

The booster, or first stage, of this Falcon 9 previously launched the GPS III-4 satellite in November 2020 on a national security mission. The GPS III-5 satellite launched on the same booster Thursday. This marks the fourth National Security Space Launch mission on a Falcon 9 rocket.

“We are building on the successful booster recoveries of GPS III-3 and GPS III-4 last year and making a historic step with the GPS III-5 mission using a previously flown vehicle,” Launch Enterprise director Col. Robert Bongiovi said in a statement. “The affordability and flexibility provided with SpaceX’s reused launch vehicles open additional opportunities for future NSSL missions and provide our nation’s warfighters with the advanced capabilities they need.”

The move to fly on used hardware will save the U.S. military tens of millions of dollars. SpaceX repeatedly launches and lands its boosters to drive down cost and increase launch cadence.

About 10 minutes after liftoff the recycled booster came back down to Earth landing on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean off Florida’s east coast. Cheers at SpaceX headquarters could be heard from mission control both for the landing and when the booster separated from the second stage.

“What a beautiful view of that first stage landing,” Youmei Zhou, SpaceX propulsion engineer, said.

Zhou said this marked the company’s 19th landing for this year and SpaceX’s 88th overall booster recovery.

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