The first in a series of next-generation GPS satellites launched late Thursday from Cape Canaveral launch Complex 37 on board a Delta IV rocket. The Air Force’s Global Positioning System GPS IIF SV-1 satellite blasted off at 11 p.m. EDT on May 27, 2010, after overcoming three different launch aborts over the last week due to weather and technical glitches. Following its three hour, 33 minute flight into orbit, the new satellite has reached its orbit 18,000 km (11,000 miles) above the Earth, joining a constellation of 24 other GPS satellites that aids in military operations and helps civilians navigate the planet. Boeing, who built the satellite for the Air Force, said they acquired the first on-orbit signals from the new satellite early Friday, and all indications are that the spacecraft bus is functioning normally and ready to begin orbital maneuvers and operational testing.
This new era of GPS satellites are solar powered, designed for a minimum 12-year life. There will be a constellation of 12 of these new navigation satellites, which will have twice the signal accuracy of previous GPS satellites and are equipped with a new signal capability for more robust civilian and commercial aviation applications, Boeing said.
For the United Launch Alliance, which prepared the Delta IV rocket, this was the 41st successful launch in the 41 months and six days since the company was created as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co. This launch also marked a milestone for the Delta rockets. The first Delta rocket, called a Thor-Delta booster, launched 50 years ago on May 13, 1960.
The Delta IV was first launched in 2002, and this is the rocket’s 13th successful flight. GPS IIF-SV1 is the first GPS satellite to launch on a Delta 4. Previous navigation satellites were launched on the smaller Delta 2 boosters, and upcoming GPS IIF constellation satellites are expected to fly on the Delta IV rockets or Atlas 5 boosters.