CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION – Despite howling winds and unseasonably frigid temperatures in the ‘sunshine state’, United Launch Alliance’s workhorse Atlas V rocket successfully blasted off this morning, Friday, Feb 5, and delivered the final GPS satellite in the IIF series to orbit for the US Air Force.
The ULA Atlas V carried the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-12 navigation satellite to orbit – thus completing the constellation of next generation GPS IIF satellites that are critical to both military and civilian users on a 24/7 basis.
These GPS IIF satellites incorporate numerous improvements over the initial series of GPS satellites to provide greater accuracy, increased signals and enhanced performance for users.
“The GPS IIF series of satellites provides positional accuracy to with 1.5 meters (4 feet),” Lt. Col. Tom Ste. Marie told Universe Today during an interview at the media’s launch viewing site.
The commercial Atlas V rocket thundered aloft from the seaside Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida at 8:38 a.m. EST.
Today’s launch was the first launch of 2016 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. It also marks ULA’s first mission of 2016 and the 60th operational GPS mission to launch on a ULA or heritage rocket. It is also the 104th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.
The first GPS IIF satellite was launched in May 2010.
The Global Positioning System GPS IIF-12 satellite was encapsulated inside the 4 meter diameter nosecone atop the twenty story tall Atlas V rocket.
Today’s picture perfect launch into clear blue skies took place just hours after widespread, drenching showers inundated the Florida space coast and threatened to scrub the mission.
“Congratulations to the ULA, Boeing and Air Force teams on the successful launch of GPS IIF-12,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president, Custom Services, in a statement.
“We began launching the IIF satellites in May 2010 and have appreciated the outstanding teamwork of everyone involved as we have worked together to deliver all 12 IIF satellites. This system provides incredible capabilities to our women and men in uniform while enabling so many technologies that impact all of our daily lives. We are proud to be GPS’s ride to space.”
These GPS satellites are manufactured by Boeing.
“This GPS IIF milestone builds on our 40-plus years of GPS experience and a strong government-Boeing partnership,” said Dan Hart, vice president, Boeing Government Satellite Systems, in a statement.
“We continue investing in GPS innovation while driving down costs, keeping GPS prepared to meet current and future demands.”
Boeing says the GPS IIF-12 will be formally declared operational in approximately one month after completing on-orbit tests.
The GPS constellation is currently comprised of 31 satellites including several still functioning satellites from the inaugural series. Altogether Boeing has delivered 50 GPS satellites to the Air Force.
The Atlas V rocket delivered the GPS IIF-12 satellite to a semi-synchronous circular orbit at an altitude of approximately 11,000 nautical miles above Earth.
The two stage Atlas V launch in the 401 configuration. This includes the first stage powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and a single engine Centaur upper stage powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.
There were no strap on solid rocket motors used for this mission. The payload is encapsulated in a 4-meter diameter payload fairing.
The launcher also utilizes a newly designed suite of avionics, flight software and ground systems. This upgraded command and control system was designed to reduce cost and improve reliability, says ULA.
Starting later in 2017, the Atlas V rocket will power US astronauts back to orbit. They will ascend the newly built crew access tower at pad 41 to board the Boeing-built CST-100 Starliner space taxi bolted atop the Atlas V.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.