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SpaceX Closes Out 2018 by Launching Falcon 9 With GPS Satellite for U.S. Air Force

Early Sunday morning, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soared through the sky from its home in Cape Canaveral carrying a new GPS III satellite for the U.S. Air Force as its first national security mission.

Delayed several times due to technical issues with sensors and stormy weather, the 229-foot-tall rocket lifted off at 8:51 a.m. ET, climbing straight away from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, reported CBS News. This is the 20th major rocket launch from Florida this year.

Although there wasn’t enough propellant for a landing, the rocket’s first stage was successful with the single engine powering the Falcon 9’s second stage ignited as planned. Two planned “burns” led it into preliminary orbit and an hour later, it completed the launch phase of the mission.

CBS News reported that the rocket, using its on-board propulsion, will send the GPS 3 satellite through a 12,500-mile-high orbit tilted 55 degrees to the equator. It will take 12 hours to complete one orbit.

The Air Force and its partner contractor Lockheed Martin will watch and test the satellite for six to nine months and then take another six to nine months examining the ground systems the spacecraft is declared operational.

The satellite is the first of 10 built by Lockheed Martin and has major improvements including a redesigned Nuclear Detonation Detection System and a search-and-rescue payload. The network of new satellites will be used by both the U.S. military and civilians.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who is the chairman of the newly reconstituted National Space Council did not attend Sunday’s launch, but was there for the initial planned launch on Tuesday.

“The most important thing is that we get that rocket up safely and securely and it achieves its mission,” Pence told spaceport workers, according to CBS News. “I know this bird is going to fly and when it flies, it’s going to make a difference for the security and prosperity of the American people.”

This mission is the final one of 2018 for Elon Musk’s SpaceX and the company’s 21st launch of the year, which breaks its 2017 record.