SpaceX caps record 2018 with launch of Air Force GPS satellite

Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral, marking Elon Musk's company's 21st launch this year

FILE PHOTO: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, scheduled to launch a U.S. Air Force navigation satellite, sits on Launch Complex 40 after the launch was postponed after an abort procedure was triggered by the onboard flight computer, at Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S., December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Steve Nesius/File Photo
Powered by automated translation

Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp capped a record-setting year on Sunday when it launched a rocket carrying a new GPS III satellite for the US Air Force, after delaying the mission several times because of a technical issue involving its rocket sensors and bad weather.

The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 8.51am local time carrying the Lockheed Martin-built satellite. SpaceX first won US Air Force certification for national-security space missions in spring 2015, breaking the lock on sensitive satellite launches long held by the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin Corp.

This GPS III will go into medium Earth orbit roughly 1 hour and 56 minutes after lift-off, according to the SpaceX.

It was SpaceX’s 21st launch of the year, up from a record 18 in 2017. The company has been able to cut costs and win market share by designing its rockets to be reused. This time, however, SpaceX will not attempt to land Falcon 9’s first stage after the launch.

ULA flew eight missions in 2018, and a ninth is scheduled for no earlier than December 30 from Vandenberg Air Force Base on California’s central coast.

“SpaceX has had a phenomenal year no matter how you slice it,” Luigi Peluso, an aerospace and defence consultant at AlixPartners, said. “In 2019, the big race is who is going to be the first company to put humans into space and bring them back. You’ve got SpaceX, Boeing, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin all vying.”

SpaceX, along with Boeing, has a contract to take American astronauts to the International Space Station as part of what is known as the Commercial Crew programme with Nasa, but the timetable for the first flights slipped repeatedly. The agency’s current schedule has SpaceX’s first demonstration flight set for January 17 and its first flight with astronauts on board in June.

Hawthorne, California-based SpaceX's valuation climbed as it has racked up successful missions, making it the third-most valuable venture-backed startup in the US after Uber Technologies and Airbnb. The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday that SpaceX is poised to raise another $500 million (Dh1.83m) by selling stock at a $30.5 billion valuation.