Over the course of human history, there have been many collaborations that have tested the very fabric of time and space. Cain and Abel, Batman and Robin, and of course, the primordial combining of both the butter of peanut and the jelly. In more recent news, when one hears the name, “Elon Musk,” the first inclination is not to assume that the billionaire founder of Tesla (TSLA), The Boring Company, and SpaceX, would ever partner up with any entity that purports the military industrial complex. Well, sports fans, Musk’s latter venture, SpaceX, just announced its successful completion of launching the United States Air Force’s first Global Positioning System (GPS) III satellite.
According to official reports, the Air Force’s GPS III satellite, manufactured by everyone’s favorite government weapons contractor, Lockheed Martin (LMT), was encapsulated in a SpaceX rocket earlier in December, with the launch date set for Christmas Eve. GPS III SV01 was nicknamed “Vespucci” after Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian adventurer who accidentally discovered the new world and paved the way for conquistadors and colonizers hundreds of years ahead of his time. Disengaging from the political rhetoric, the US Air Force is launching Vespucci in an effort to upgrade the current “‘gold standard’ in positioning, navigation, and timing services for more than four billion users worldwide.”
For those unfamiliar with how GPS systems work, the quick and easy explanation is that when someone is trying to find their ‘global position,’ a signal will be sent from a smartphone or GPS-locating device, and the position of said device will be triangulated after the signal has been sent up to pinball of one of the GPS satellites in space. In addition to providing global citizens with improved ability to locate their Uber drivers, the USAF says GPS III will be used in conjunction with Space and Missile Systems Center’s SMC 2.0 which “focuses on innovation to deliver capability to the warfighter.”
In terms of the Air Force’s aforementioned focus on satellite improvements for the ‘warfighter,’ they are speaking in terms of providing the best possible equipment in the event that global warfare extends into the reaches of space. Several months ago, President Donald Trump decided that the United States should have, within its Air Force, a Space Force ready to be deployed in the event of literal Star Wars.
The official language of President Trump’s “Space Force” Memo states that:
“Pursuant to my authority as Commander in Chief…in consultation with the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I direct the establishment, consistent with United States law, of United States Space Command as a function Unified Combatant Command. I also direct the Secretary of Defense to recommend officers for my nomination and Senate confirmation as Commander and Deputy Commander of the new United States Space Command.”
–President Donald Trump “Test of a Memorandum from the President Regarding Establishment of Space Command
Taking all the news of the United States Space Command into consideration, SpaceX’s collaboration with the USAF indicates a dramatic shift in how tech industry wunderkinder have viewed traditional government institutions. Previously, individuals like Musk invented products and experimented with rockets to rebel against the government and innovate for the future without federal intervention.
Several months ago, Richard Branson, a different billionaire with creative ideas, launched his own commercial aircraft into space.
According to reports, the aircraft climbed over 52 miles of altitude and hit a top speed of Mach 2.9, or 2225.08 miles per hour for you non-aerospace plebeians. Continuing the brief aerospace lesson for a hot moment. When reports say SpaceShipTwo reached the “edge of space,” they are referring to the internationally recognized Karman line. Referencing the always faithful Wikipedia definition, the Karman line “lies at an altitude of 100km (62 miles, 330,000 ft) above Earth’s sea level and commonly represents the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and outer space.” So, to put it nicely, the two astronauts aboard Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft didn’t quite reach space just yet.
Musk’s partnership with the United States Air Force reflects mood change that will hopefully see companies and governmental institutions work in tandem to create and invent to improve the lives of future generations.