See SpaceX launch an updated GPS satellite for the U.S. Space Force.

This afternoon, SpaceX will launch a new GPS satellite for the US Space Force from Cape Canaveral, Florida, part of an ongoing Department of Defense search to update the already-orbiting GPS constellation. This satellite will replace one of the oldest and least powerful GPS satellites currently in the system, keeping the total number of satellites in space at 31.

This is the third such GPS satellite model to be launched into orbit and the second time that SpaceX has launched a GPS spacecraft. Called GPS III SV03, it is part of a satellite block known as GPS III, designed and built by Lockheed Martin. Lockheed Martin claims that, compared to older GPS spacecraft, GPS III satellites “have three times better accuracy and improved anti-interference capabilities up to eight times.”

The spacecraft also introduces a number of new features. They can transmit a new signal intended to assist civilians and commercial satellite users, and they can also communicate with other navigation satellites, such as the European constellation Galileo. That way, people using the GPS system can connect with even more satellites in space. Furthermore, spacecraft are meant to last longer in space than their predecessors.

The Space Force had been preparing to launch the satellite in April, but the COVID-19 pandemic forced the military branch to delay the mission. Of particular concern was the crew’s ability to stay six feet away while operating the satellite during its initial launch and deployment to the designated control center at the Lockheed Martin facility in Colorado. “We focus on people, personnel, processes and procedures, as well as facilities,” said Col. Edward Byrne, senior materials leader for the Middle Earth Orbit Space Systems Division at the Center for Space Systems and Force Missile Project, during A Press Call. The Space Force reduced the amount of crew needed to handle the satellite at launch, moved some of the terminals, and placed partitions for additional separation.

After testing and adapting to the new system, the Space Force is now ready to fly. Meanwhile, additional precautions are also being taken at the launch site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, where SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to launch. The 45th Space Wing, which oversees launches outside the Cape, has instituted temperature controls and facial covers for its personnel. Different groups of people are assigned to separate flights so that there is no “cross contamination” among personnel jumping from one mission to the next.

“Several cases have increased in Florida and in Brevard County, but we are taking the necessary precautions to make sure everyone is safe,” said Brig. General Doug Schiess, the commander of the 45th wing of space space, said during the call. He noted that the 45th Space Wing has overseen several launches during the pandemic, in particular the first manned launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon that sends two NASA astronauts into space, and that no one in the 45th Space Wing has been sickened to moment.

Takeoff is scheduled for 3:55 PM ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX only has a short window to start, until 4:10 pm ET. After takeoff, SpaceX will attempt to land its Falcon 9 rocket on one of the company’s drones in the Atlantic. So far, there’s a 60 percent chance that weather conditions will be favorable for the launch, but if SpaceX can’t do it today, the company has a backup launch date of Wednesday, July 1. SpaceX’s live coverage of the mission will begin about 15 minutes before launch.