December 23, 2018 / 1:44 PM / 2 months ago

SpaceX to reattempt launch of first U.S. national security space mission

Dec 23 (Reuters) - Billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX will once again on Sunday attempt the long-delayed launch of a U.S. military navigation satellite, which would be the company’s first national security space mission for the U.S. government.

The launch of a Falcon 9 rocket carrying a roughly $500 million GPS satellite built by Lockheed Martin Corp is set for 8:51 a.m. EST/13:51 UTC from Florida’s Cape Canaveral, SpaceX’s fifth attempt in the last week after technical and weather delays.

The company canceled a launch on Saturday due to strong winds.

A successful launch would be a significant victory for Musk’s privately held rocket company, which has spent years trying to break into the lucrative market for military space launches dominated by Lockheed and Boeing Co.

SpaceX sued the U.S. Air Force in 2014 over the military’s award of a multibillion-dollar, non-compete contract for 36 rocket launches to United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed. It dropped the lawsuit in 2015 after the Air Force agreed to open up competition.

The next year, SpaceX won an $83 million Air Force contract to launch the GPS III satellite, which will have a lifespan of 15 years.

If successfully launched on Sunday, the satellite would be the first of 32 in production by Lockheed under contracts worth a combined $12.6 billion for the Air Force GPS III program, according to Lockheed spokesman Chip Eschenfelder.

The launch was originally scheduled for 2014 but has been hobbled by production delays, the Air Force said.

The next GPS III satellite is due to launch in mid-2019, Eschenfelder said, while subsequent satellites undergo testing in the company’s Colorado processing facility. (Reporting by Eric M. Johnson Additional reporting by Joseph Ax and Gina Cherelus; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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