WASHINGTON — Vice President Mike Pence will be at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, to witness Tuesday’s launch of the first Air Force GPS 3 satellite.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Pence called the GPS 3 launch an “important step forward as we seek to secure American leadership in space.”

The Air Force announced on Monday that the satellite is on track for the Dec. 18 launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. A White House spokesperson confirmed on Thursday that Pence will be attending the launch.

The first vehicle of the Lockheed Martin-made GPS 3 constellation is called Vespucci, in honor of Amerigo Vespucci, the Italian explorer for whom the Americas were named. The Air Force Space and Missile Systems aid the vehicle is ready to be rolled out to its pad at Space Launch Complex-40, where it will be mated with the Falcon 9 rocket.

Vespucci will augment the current 31-satellite constellation that provides positioning, navigation, and timing services for more than four billion users worldwide. The satellite was flown to Cape Canaveral on Aug. 20 aboard a massive Air Force C-17 aircraft.

The first GPS 3, known as SV01, is the first of an entirely new design of GPS satellite that has three times better accuracy and up to eight times improved anti-jamming capabilities, according to Lockheed Martin. The spacecraft life will extend to 15 years, 25 percent longer than any of the GPS satellites on orbit today. GPS 3 provides a new L1C civil signal and will be the first GPS satellite broadcasting a compatible signal with other international global navigation satellite systems, like Galileo.

SV01 is the first of 10 GPS 3 satellites originally ordered by the Air Force. GPS 3 SV03-08 are now in various stages of assembly and test. In August, the Air Force declared the second GPS 3 “available for launch” and, in November, called GPS 3 SV02 up for a 2019 launch.

In September, the Air Force announced plans to spend up to $7.2 billion on the GPS 3 follow on (GPS 3F) program to build up to 22 additional satellites. On Sept. 26, the Air Force awarded Lockheed Martin a $1.4 billion contract to start up the program.

Sandra Erwin writes about military space programs, policy, technology and the industry that supports this sector. She has covered the military, the Pentagon, Congress and the defense industry for nearly two decades as editor of NDIA’s National Defense...