SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne. Photo by John Schreiber.

Hawthorne-based SpaceX is scheduled to propel a U.S. Air Force GPS satellite into orbit Tuesday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, where Vice President Mike Pence will be among those on hand to view the spectacle.

The launch of the GPS III SV01 satellite, nicknamed Vespucci in honor of Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci, is scheduled for 6:11 a.m. California time. If successful, it will be the 21st launch of the year for SpaceX.

The company will be using a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket for the launch. While the Block 5 variety of the Falcon 9 was designed to be re-usable in as many as 10 missions, SpaceX will not attempt to recover the rocket, meaning it will be allowed to splash into the sea.

It was unclear exactly why SpaceX — which prides itself on recovering rockets for future use by landing them back on the ground or on a barge at sea — will not attempt to recover the multimillion-dollar rocket. A company executive told reporters recently the rocket will not be outfitted with any landing equipment, and described the launch as a “challenging mission.”

SpaceX officially stated that it would not attempt to recover the rocket “due to mission requirements.” Some pundits have speculated that the parameters of the mission would not leave enough excess fuel for a booster-rocket reentry burn, or possibly that SpaceX’s customer — the Air Force — didn’t want a recovery effort to elevate the risk level for the overall mission.

The satellite itself was built by Lockheed Martin. A company executive said the satellite “will be the first step in modernizing the Air Force’s GPS constellation with the most powerful and resilient GPS satellites ever designed and built.”

The satellite being launched Tuesday will join 31 GPS satellites already in orbit. Air Force officials said the constellation will “provide the `gold standard’ in positioning, navigation and timing services for more than 4 billion users worldwide.” SpaceX is already under contract to launch four more GPS III missions.

Pence announced earlier this month that he would be attending Tuesday’s launch, which he called “an important step forward as we seek to secure American leadership in space.”

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