CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – The U.S. Air Force launched the GPS IIF-2 satellite into orbit Saturday (July 16) on a mission to enhance the country’s constellation of Global Positioning System satellites. The satellite was launched atop a Delta IV Medium 4, 2 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 37B at 2:41 a.m. EDT. The Delta IV had been scheduled to launch two days prior but slipped one day due to a technical issue with the satellite and a second day when technicians were prevented from rolling the Mobile Service Tower or MST back because of weather.
This morning’s launch
The rocket was provided by United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the company oversaw the liftoff. This configuration of the Delta IV Medium has two solid rocket boosters which are provided by Utah’s Alliant Techsystems (ATK). The boosters are required to provide the extra boost required to send the spacecraft into the correct orbit.
Weather was the biggest concern for the launch, but when the clock reached zero the launch vehicle thundered off of the pad in a spectacle of sound and light. The weather turned out to be a non-issue with mostly clear moonlit skies and almost no breeze. Lightning could still be seen lighting up the Florida sky off in the distance – but the summer light show only served as a backdrop for the launch.
“This is an exciting time for ULA, we are happy to have launched our 52nd mission,” said United Launch Alliance Spokesman Chris Chavez. “We’re happy to support the U.S. Air Force along with our customer and partner Boeing – it was a great launch and a great morning.”
Boeing is the prime contractor that provided the U.S. Air Force with the GPS satellite. The GPS IIF system is expected to provide next-generation performance to the GPS constellation of satellites. These abilities are considered to be vital to U.S. national security as well as maintaining the GPS constellation’s availability for civil, commercial and military requirements. The IIF is expected to provide enhanced capability and better performance.
The first GPS IIF satellite was launched in 2010. It is hoped that the pulse-line production method that is employed by Boeing will ensure that the IIF fleet is placed on orbit on schedule. This production method is very similar to how airplanes are developed. The process is named because satellites are moved from one work station to the next in a steady rhythm – similar to a pulse.
The GPS IIF-2 satellite will be utilized for both for civilian and military purposes. A new civilian L5 signal will assist with search and rescue missions, while the military will benefit from the satellite’s resistance to jamming. The satellite also has a reprogrammable processor that can receive uploads on-orbit. GPS IIF-2 has a design life of 12 years and it is hoped that it will provide long-term service will keeping operating costs low.
“The enhancements that the GPS IIF-2 satellite has should strengthen the constellation for many years to come,” said Boeing Spokesperson Angie Yoshimura.