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Latest GPS satellite goes into service

The US Space Force says the fourth GPS III satellite is now in business in the constellation that helps you get where you're going.

GPS III satellite on orbit

What a GPS III satellite looks like on orbit.

Lockheed Martin

You don't have to look to the stars to get help from space in traveling to new destinations. That's what GPS is for. This week, the constellation of GPS satellites circling Earth got an update when the US Space Force gave operational approval to the newest satellite, the fourth in the GPS III series.

The new satellite was launched into orbit four weeks ago on a SpaceX Falcon rocket, making this the fastest time between launch and operational status for a GPS III satellite. The Global Positioning System provides positioning, navigation and timing services used by billions of individuals and businesses around the world, having broadened beyond its military origins starting in the mid-1990s.

GPS III incorporates both a new design for the satellites themselves, including a planned 15-year life span, and new capabilities such as stronger signals and better protection against jamming. Those capabilities are part of a rolling series of upgrades involving older satellites already in service and newer ones heading aloft in the coming years.

The Space Force manages a total of 31 GPS satellites, which reside in medium Earth orbit 12,500 miles above the planet, and aims to have 24 of those satellites operational around the clock.

"We're always looking to improve not only our military capabilities but our civilian capabilities as well," Maj. Gen. DeAnna Burt told CNET in an interview earlier this year.

The first GPS III satellite was launched in December 2018, the second in August 2019 and the third in June 2020. All three became operational this year. All in the series are built by Lockheed Martin.

The next GPS III satellite will head into space no earlier than July 2021, according to the Space Force.

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