Early Saturday morning a Delta IV rocket carrying the latest GPS satellite blasted off on it’s journey into space. This was the second of the new block IIF satellites made by Boeing to be launched. Boeing have been contracted to supply 12 block IIF GPS satellites to replace existing spacecraft which are reaching the end of their operational life.
The launch was the 50th GPS satellite, all of which have been deployed on Delta rockets: 48 on Delta II and now 2 on Delta IV. The launch originally scheduled for June 28th was delayed 3 times, to July 14th and 15th for technical reasons then again to July 16th because of weather.
Early morning July the 16th broke that chain of delays and the Delta IV and the GPS satellite reached out to space, continuing to replenish the constellation of NAVSTAR GPS navigation satellites pinpointing our location.
The launch video follows the rocket launch for the first 2 minutes of the flight clearly showing the SRB separation.
Our full launch report and image gallery follows:
In the afternoon of the 14th visited the Delta IV Launch Complex 37B at Cape Canaveral Air force Station to place remote cameras and also to watch the Mobile Service Tower to move back exposing the rocket as it was in the final preparations for flight. When we were on the pad the weather was beautiful, barely a cloud in the sky and the sun shining brightly. However typically with the Floridian weather patterns it took just a few minutes for the whole sky to change and we had to leave the launch pad area. There was a “Phase 2 Lightning Alert” indicating that there were lightning strikes taking place in the vicinity.
The lightning alert prevented the Mobile Service Tower from being rolled back which in turn started to eat into the countdown processes that have to take place at specific times prior to the launch. Eventually the storm prevented the tower to be moved without slipping the launch time, which was only a 19 minute window. This effectively scrubbed the lunch attempt for the day. It was a good call as well. During the night there was over 1.5 inches of rain in the area. This did not bode well for our cameras left out on the pad.
We were hoping to get back out to the launch pad to see the Mobile Service Tower retract on the 15th, but as luck would have it the pad was closed to media, and we were not even allowed to get back and check or clean our cameras. Some of the guys had not programmed alternate launches into their systems so would not get any images. The tower did roll back during a period of good weather which would have been before we got out there anyway.
Things were going to plan and we all had to meet outside the Kennedy Space Center to be escorted to the KSC Press Site, and then on to the viewing location just over 2 and a half miles from the launch pad. When we arrived the Delta IV was spot lit by bright Xenon lights. In fact as I was coming in the rocket could be seen form the Indian River bridge about 15 miles away standing proudly on the pad.
As we were waiting for the launch the weather really cleared up and there were just the odd one or two very light clouds lit by a nearly full moon. In fact if it was not for the humidity it would have been a perfect night all round. Even the mosquitoes seemed to have taken the night off.
As the countdown progressed we the anticipation increased. At T-5 minutes we had a quick look up at the night sky to confirm the weather was still good for launch and indeed it was. The tension was building. We did not have mission audio, but someone was calling out the countdown progress. T-10 seconds we were ready to go…
Suddenly the sky brightened, smoke and steam were billowing off the launch pad, the rocket was starting to disappear in the clouds until finally it started rising. Slowly at first then all of a sudden it seemed to pick up pace and raced off into the sky. Weirdly this had all happened in silence. It was a full 20 seconds before the roar of the rocket and the two solid rocket boosters reached us.
What an incredible sight. The rocket was heading south and west on its way into orbit and left behind a lovely corkscrew plume that was rather nicely lit by the moonlight. We were able to follow the progress of the rocket through the clear skies all the way until the SRBs burnt out and separated from the main core. After this the rocket was just a tiny dot of flame as it climbed into the sky. Our launch video covers the rocket from blast off all the way through to SRB separation.
Just 3 hours later the GPS satellite is now in orbit and is starting the sequence of checkouts required before it can take over from the satellite that it is replacing. Interestingly the satellite it is replacing GPS 2A-11 was launched just over 20 years ago on July 3rd 1991 on top of a Delta II rocket. Boeing are contracted to supply a further 10 GPS satellites all of which are destined to replace some of the ageing birds that have reached and exceeded their operational life. They are currently being launched on need, but it is expected that the deployments will increase next year when more of the old satellites require de-commissioning.