Delta 4 rocket boosts upgraded GPS satellite into orbit

CBS News

A United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket boosts a new GPS navigation satellite into orbit. (Credit: United Launch Alliance)
Lighting up the night sky, a United Launch Alliance Delta 4 rocket blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station early Saturday, boosting an upgraded Global Positioning System navigation satellite into orbit for the Air Force.

The Delta 4's RS-68 first stage engine and two solid-fuel boosters ignited with a rush of fiery exhaust at 2:41 a.m. EDT (GMT-4), quickly pushing the towering rocket away from space launch complex 37B. Twelve minutes later, the rocket's second stage shut down and the vehicle slipped into its planned preliminary orbit.

Two additional second stage firings were carried out as planned and the GPS 2F satellite was released to fly on its own. After tests and checkout, it will replace the GPS 2A-11 satellite, which was launched in 1991.

"I'm extremely pleased with today's successful launch," Col. Bernie Gruber, director of SMC's Global Positioning Systems Directorate, said in a post-launch statement. "The GPS system's overall navigational accuracy will improve as more GPS 2F space vehicles are put into service. The improved accuracy, reliability and security of the GPS system ensure that the Air Force will continue to meet its navigation and timing commitments to GPS users around the world."

This was the 17th launch of a ULA Delta 4 -- the 14th from Cape Canaveral -- the 67th launch of a GPS satellite and the second flight of an upgraded Boeing-built GPS Block 2F spacecraft.

The Global Positioning System constellation is made up of 24 satellite in six orbital planes at an altitude of about 11,000 miles. Transmitting precise timing and location signals, the GPS satellites allow military and civilian users to determine velocity, altitude and position to within a few dozen feet anywhere in the world.

The Block 2F satellites have an operational lifetime of 12 years, twice the accuracy of earlier spacecraft, an upgradeable processor and improved anti-jamming technology.