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SpaceX launches GPS satellite from Florida, lands booster on ship

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off Thursday evening from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying a Global Positioning System satellite. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off Thursday evening from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying a Global Positioning System satellite. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 5 (UPI) -- SpaceX successfully launched the U.S. Air Force's fourth next-generation navigation satellite for the Global Positioning System from Florida on Thursday evening.

A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off as planned at 6:24 p.m. EST into dark skies over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

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Radio receivers in Maryland, and then in Bermuda, picked up signals from the rocket in the minutes after launch as it cruised over the Atlantic Ocean, John Insprucker, a SpaceX engineer, said in a live webcast.

The rocket's first-stage booster landed successfully on a company drone ship in the Atlantic about 8 1/2 minutes after launch. It was the 16th such booster recovery for Elon Musk's company this year.

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The military's GPS system also is used by civilians, guiding such everyday tools as Google Maps and Uber's ride-share locator service. Such business fueled by GPS is estimated by the military to drive about $300 billion in revenues each year.

The satellite, GPS III SV04, is intended to augment and update the existing network of over 30 spacecraft in a medium Earth orbit. The Air Force aims to keep the number of GPS satellites at 24, with new ones replacing satellites as they are retired.

Military officials said the new GPS III system, when fully operational, will bring three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capability than its predecessor.

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Lockheed Martin builds and delivers the GPS satellites, which the Air Force said are vital to U.S. and allied operations worldwide, with 4 billion users in financial, transportation and agricultural applications.

The previous GPS III satellite, launched June 30, became operational Oct. 1, according to Lockheed Martin.

Five more GPS III satellites are in production, three of which are fully assembled and being tested.

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Astronauts make round trip to space station from U.S. soil

NASA astronaut Douglas Hurley (C) waves to onlookers as he boards a plane at Naval Air Station Pensacola to return him and NASA astronaut Robert Behnken home to Houston a few hours after the duo landed in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft off the coast of Pensacola, Fla,, on August 2, 2020. Photo by Bill Ingalls/NASA | License Photo

Lockheed is under contract to build up to 22 more GPS satellites, known as GPS III Follow On, which will "add additional technology and advanced capabilities to ensure U.S. and allied forces cannot be denied access to GPS in hostile environments" the company said in a statement Wednesday.

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