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SpaceX rocket launches U.S. military satellite into orbit

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SpaceX's reusable rocket accelerates toward space after blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., with a U.S. military GPS satellite aboard Wednesday morning. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI
SpaceX's reusable rocket accelerates toward space after blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., with a U.S. military GPS satellite aboard Wednesday morning. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 18 (UPI) -- Elon Musk's SpaceX launched one of its Falcon 9 rockets Wednesday morning with a GPS satellite on board, part of a U.S. Space Force program to have a constellation of 32 navigation satellites orbiting the Earth.

The rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida at 7:24 a.m. EST carrying the fifth Lockheed Martin-made Space Vehicle 6 of the so-called GPS 3 constellation, which delivers positioning, navigation and timing signals to military and civilian customers.

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SpaceX confirmed it had successfully injected the GPS satellite into a mid-Earth orbit at an altitude of 2,670 miles 90 minutes after liftoff. Each satellite in the constellation orbits the Earth twice daily, Space.com reported. The satellite will slowly climb over the next two weeks under its own power to its operational orbit of 12,550 miles above the Earth.

The mission is fueling a new chapter in the development of space exploration as the sector transitions to reusable rockets. The first stage of the Falcon 9, the booster that lifts the rocket and payload from the launch pad and flies for the first 2 1/2 minutes, previously propelled the International Space Station's Crew 5 -- Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA, Japanese mission specialist Koichi Wakata and Russia's Anna Kikina -- up to the station in October.

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Just under 10 minutes after launch the first stage docked with the SpaceX's drone ship, which had been standing by off the Florida coast.

"With each national security launch, we continue to strengthen America's capabilities and its deterrence in the face of growing threats while adding stability to a very dynamic world," Space Force Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy said.

Wednesday's launch was SpaceX's second launch for the U.S. military in the past three days and its fourth in all this year.

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SpaceX had previously launched four GPS 3 satellites under contracts awarded in 2016 and 2018. The first launch was on Dec. 23, 2018, the second and third on June 30 and Nov. 5, 2020, and the fourth on June 17, 2021.

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