Lift-Off! Air Force Launches New GPS Satellite to Space

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched a new GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force Friday (May 16).
A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket launched a new GPS satellite for the U.S. Air Force Friday, May 16, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

CAPE CANAVERAL — A replacement Global Positioning System spacecraft for the world's best-known satellite constellation ascended into orbit Friday (May 16) night aboard a Delta 4 rocket in a spectacular sendoff at sunset.

Igniting its main engine and twin solid rockets at 8:03 p.m. EDT, the 205-foot-tall vehicle lifted off on 1.2 million pounds of chest-thumping thrust. The launch has been delayed a day by inclement weather.

Arcing to the northeast, the Delta 4 accelerated through Mach 1 in less than a minute, jettisoned its strap-on boosters a minute later and cruised out to staging in four minutes. [See amazing photos from the launch]

The cryogenic upper stage then lit to propel the vehicle into a transfer orbit, reaching the point of engine cutoff over the North Atlantic 15 minutes into flight.

A three-hour coast then began as the rocket flew over Europe, the Middle East and Indian Ocean before restarting the RL10B-2 engine to circularize the orbit at 11,000 nautical miles and tilted 55 degrees to the equator.

The $245 million Global Positioning System 2F-6 will be used to upgrade the navigation system. Image uploaded May 17, 2014. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

"Our team has launched every modern GPS satellite from here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. We take great pride in our ability to deliver these capabilities to our citizens and warfighters," said Lt. Col. Paul Konyha, 45th Launch Support Squadron commander. "I am always impressed by the amount of dedication and rigor that everyone puts into each launch."

It was a direct insertion ascent, putting the $245 million Global Positioning System 2F-6 payload into the navigation network three hours and 15 minutes after blastoff.

"Today's successful launch demonstrates our combined government and industry team's dedication to mission success, ensuring GPS continues to be the Gold Standard for space based positioning, navigation, and timing," said Col. Bill Cooley, director of the Space and Missile Systems Centers Global Positioning Systems Directorate.

This ULA Atlas 5 rocket launched a new GPS satellite to space on May 16, 2014. (Image credit: United Launch Alliance)

"I want to recognize the tireless efforts of the 45th and 50th Space wings, United Launch Alliance, Boeing, and the GPS 2F and Delta 4 program teams at SMC. I am extremely proud of the team, everyone pulled together to make this day a true success. Users can depend on GPS with confidence today, tomorrow and in the future."

GPS 2F-6 will replace the aging spacecraft known as GPS 2A-23 in Plane D, Slot 4 of the constellation. The GPS 2A-23 satellite was launched aboard Delta 223 in October 1993. It will go into a reserve role in the network for the remainder of its useful life.

"The replacement of our legacy satellites ensures both the sustainment and the modernization of the GPS constellation by providing the increase in signal power, improved accuracy and anti-jamming capabilities for GPS users worldwide," said Col. Steve Steiner, GPS Space Systems Division chief.

This was the sixth of 12 Boeing-built Block 2F spacecraft being manufactured to form the backbone of the GPS fleet for the next 15 years. The full dozen satellites are due to be launched by mid-2016.

"Boeing's dedicated GPS team is proud and excited to reach this half-way point in delivering this new-generation of spacecraft into service," said Munzir Badawi, Boeing's GPS 2F program manager.

It was the second GPS launch since February, with two more planned for the end of July and late October aboard Atlas 5 rockets from the Cape to further bolster the constellation.

"Boeing has continued to maintain a robust tempo of deliveries to meet U.S. Air Force requirements, with the next GPS 2F already on deck in Florida for a third-quarter liftoff," said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Space and Intelligence Systems. "As a prime contractor on the GPS program since the first launch in 1978, our experience with these complex and critically important spacecraft spans nearly 40 years and now covers 44 satellites delivered into orbit with continuing mission support."

The current constellation is comprised of seven GPS 2A satellites, a dozen GPS 2Rs, seven 2R-Ms and four GPS 2Fs. The one launched in February is nearing completion of a navigation characterizing testing and will become the 31st member of the constellation by month's end.

GPS 2F-6 will replace its target within a month of launch.

"The GPS constellation is reliably serving global users with the most accurate and robust signals ever, and the navigation, timing accuracy and availability will improve as the GPS modernization efforts continue," said Col. Bill Cooley, director of the Space and Missile Systems Center's Global Positioning Systems Directorate.

The next Delta 4 launch is scheduled for July 23 carrying two satellites for the Air Force's Geosynchronous Space Situational Awareness Program.

The next launch from Cape Canaveral is less than a week away. An Atlas 5 will launch a classified National Reconnaissance Office payload next Thursday morning between 8:45 and 10:15 a.m. EDT.

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