Dec. 26 (UPI) -- The first of a next-generation global positioning satellite, offering security, longer life and greater connectivity, was successfully launched this week and is preparing to take its place among the current GPS constellation.
The GPS III SV01 satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Sunday. Once operational it will join 31 other satellites in providing positioning, navigation and timing services to over four billion civil, commercial and military users.
"In the coming days, GPS III SV01 will use its liquid apogee engines to climb into its operational orbit about 12,550 miles above the earth," said Johnathon Caldwell, Lockheed Martin's Vice President for Navigation Systems. "We will then send it commands to deploy its solar arrays and antennas, and begin on-orbit checkout and tests, including extensive signals testing with our advanced navigation payload provided by Harris Corporation."
While civilians and businesses around the world depend on GPS for everyday communications and navigation, the military requires constant location information transmitted through a system secure enough to be impenetrable to enemies. The new system is built for modern electronic warfare, officials say, which will protect it for all users.
The satellite, nicknamed "Vespucci" in honor of 15th century explorer Amerigo Vespucci, was successfully launched into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. It is regarded as the most advanced satellite in the constellation of communications satellites, and offers advanced security, precision and reliability, Lockheed said.
The launch, the first use of a privately-owned SpaceX rocket for a national security mission, was postponed several times because of bad weather, prior to Sunday.
"This is the Air Force's first GPS III, so we are excited to begin on-orbit test and demonstrate its capabilities," Caldwell added. "By this time next year, we expect to also have a second GPS III on orbit and users should be receiving signals from this first satellite."
The U.S. Air Force initially ordered 10 satellites. The second is expected to launch in 2019, with six more currently in production or testing phases.