ORLANDO, Fla., April 8 (UPI) -- The coronavirus pandemic has delayed the launch of a GPS III satellite -- the first postponement tied to the virus for a military space mission, the U.S. Space Force said.
The announcement Tuesday evening said the launch, previously planned for late April, would occur no earlier than June 30. The satellite is to be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
The decision was made to minimize the potential of coronavirus exposure to the launch crew and other personnel, officials said.
"Rescheduling the launch is in the interest of national security," Lt. Gen. John F. Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center in California, said in a statement.
"We have to get it right the first time, and protecting our people is just as important as cost, schedule, and performance," Thompson said.
The Space Force said it will re-evaluate a potential launch date in May, and the delay will not impact the effectiveness of GPS service.
On March 26, the Space Force launched a military communications satellite, AEHF-6, from Florida despite the pandemic. But the planned launch in March of an Argentine satellite from Florida was postponed indefinitely due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
The existing GPS network consists of 31 satellites in orbit. The next launch would deploy the third satellite in the third generation of the GPS spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin.
The new generation brings three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability, officials said.
The Space Force still plans to complete the next three GPS launches in 2020, according to the announcement.
In the meantime, authorities are seeking ways to reduce the number of people present for launches and to allow social distancing in facilities.
"Once these efforts are completed, and the crews have rehearsed and are deemed proficient and ready to execute under these modified conditions, we fully intend to return to our launch cadence for deploying GPS III satellites," Col. Edward Byrne, chief of the Medium Earth Orbit Space Systems Division, said in a news release.