On Thursday 4th October the third of the new range of GPS IIF navigation satellites was launched into orbit. There was a perfect countdown with everything proceeding on schedule to the target T-0 of 8:10am EST. As the countdown clock wound down the weather conditions improved with an 80% chance of launch quoted at the weather briefing during the T-4 minute hold.
The seconds were ticking away when the launch controller polled the 30+ stations monitoring individual functions on the rocket, the launch pad, the flight range and the weather. Each of the stations reported GO across the board and the mission director gave the launch conductor permission to launch. At 8:06am the countdown restarted at T-4.
The terminal countdown continued to T-5 seconds when the main booster was ignited. The lower part of the Delta IV rocket was engulfed in a fireball of hydrogen burn off. As the last few seconds ticked away the main engine built up power until T-0.01 seconds when the twin solid rocket motors were lit. At 8:10 the hold down was released and the rocket blasted off on its 3 and a half hour trip into orbit.
Continue reading the launch report and to view the launch image gallery:
There was little cloud cover giving a great view of the orange rocket as it streaked into the skies. The bright flames of the rocket and the two SRMs continued to rise into the atmosphere for 1 minute and 40 seconds at which time the SRMs having finished their job burnt out. a couple of seconds later they were ejected and started to tumble back down to splash into the Atlantic Ocean.
The main booster continued to power the rocket out of the heavy atmosphere as the rocket passed over the Bahamas streaking east and south. After 9.99 minutes the first stage had lofted the rocket to the MECO (Main Engine Cut Off) event. Having performed its allotted task the first stage separated from the second stage and started its re-entry to Earth to land in the Atlantic Ocean as well.
With the booster out of the way the second stage engine was started in the first of three burns to loft the GPS satellite into its correct orbit. There was some concern about the thrust of the second stage engine. Rumours spread that it did not perform correctly, but the deficiency was overcome by longer burn times. Three and a half hours into the flight the GPS IIF-3 satellite was released after attaining a circular orbit at just over 11,000 miles above the earth.
Later in the day the successful deployment of the satellite was confirmed by ULA and the USAF. Now there will be a period of testing and checking out the operation of the satellite prior to inserting it into the operational GPS constellation.
There are three more GPS IIF satellites already built by Boeing waiting for launch vehicles and constellation requirements. Despite worries a couple of years ago with doom and gloom being spread about the stability of the GPS constellation it has proven that the current satellites are lasting far longer than their specified operational lifetime. Currently the only reason to increase the deployment rate of the GPS satellites is to improve the functionality of the service rather than patch a failing constellation.
The official press release from ULA states:
United Launch Alliance Delta IV Rocket Successfully Launches Global Positioning System Satellite for the U.S. Air ForceCape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., (Oct. 4, 2012) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket carrying the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-3 payload for the United States Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-37 here at 8:10 a.m. EDT today. This launch marks the 9th ULA launch this year, the 54th Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) mission, and the 65th launch since ULA was formed nearly six years ago.
Launch Marks 65th Successful ULA Launch in Less than Six Years
“Congratulations to the entire team on today’s successful launch of the GPS IIF-3 satellite,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. “ULA and our mission partners have a rich heritage with the GPS program and we are proud to have served alongside the government and contractor teams over the last two decades to provide important Global Positioning System capabilities for our national defense and for millions of civilian and commercial users around the world.”
This mission was launched aboard a Delta IV Medium-plus configuration vehicle using a ULA single common booster core powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-68 main engine, along with two Alliant Techsystems GEM 60 solid rocket motors. The payload was encapsulated by a composite payload fairing and powered by the four-meter diameter upper stage using the PWR RL10B-2 engine. The GPS IIF-3 launch marked the ninth flight of the Delta IV medium+ (4,2) configuration and the 21st flight of the Delta IV family of launch vehicles.
“We are honored to be the primary launch provider for our nation. Reliability, quality, and on-time performance are ULA’s hallmarks,” said Sponnick. “Our nation’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines rely on our performance in accurately placing our customer’s critical payloads in their required orbits.”
GPS IIF-3 is the third in a series of next generation GPS satellites and will join a worldwide timing and navigation system utilizing 24 satellites in six different planes, with a minimum of four satellites per plane positioned in orbit approximately 11,000 miles above the earths’ surface. The GPS IIF series provides improved accuracy and enhanced performance for GPS users.
And from Boeing the following:
Boeing Modernizes GPS Network withCAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., Oct. 4, 2012 — The Global Positioning System (GPS), which military, commercial, and civilian users rely on for accurate navigation, is becoming more capable with deployment of the third Boeing [NYSE: BA] GPS IIF for the U.S. Air Force. The IIF model is the most advanced GPS satellite to date.
SVN-65 sends 1st signals following launch on Delta IV rocket
Addition to GPS constellation will provide more accurate navigation for military and civilians
SVN-65 is on orbit and performing as expected following liftoff at 8:10 a.m. Eastern time from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV rocket. Controllers confirmed initial contact with the spacecraft at 11:43 a.m. Eastern time. The satellite’s GPS signals will be turned on and tested within a few days.
“With this third IIF satellite now on orbit, Boeing continues to deliver more precise navigation and timing capabilities for military and commercial uses worldwide,” said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager of Boeing Space & Intelligence Systems.
GPS IIF is delivering greater navigational accuracy through improvements in atomic clock technology; a more secure and jam-resistant military signal; a protected, more precise, and interference-free civilian L5 signal, and an extended design life.
Following a sequence of maneuvers and other on-orbit tests, SVN-65 will be placed into medium Earth orbit. After the spacecraft’s safety is validated, the Air Force will verify its operability with the rest of the on-orbit constellation and the Boeing-built ground control system known as the Operational Control Segment.