Soaring through a crystal-clear autumn afternoon, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket successfully orbited the next-to-last craft of the current generation of Global Positioning System satellites, GPS IIF-11. Following a 24-hour delay so the ULA ground team could repair a leak in the launch pad water deluge system, AV-060 lifted off right on time at 12:13 pm EDT, October 31, giving the rocket launch “birdwatchers” along Florida’s Space Coast a spectacular Halloween treat.
“Congratulations to the entire team on today’s successful launch of the GPS IIF-11 satellite! Today’s launch was made possible by the exceptional performance and teamwork exhibited by the entire team, including the men and women of ULA, our many mission partners, and our U.S. Air Force customer,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “GPS is omnipresent in our everyday lives and the system provides a critical service to the all of those serving in our military around the world. All of the operational GPS satellites have been launched on Atlas and Delta rockets and the U.S. Air Force does an outstanding job of operating this essential system.”
“As the nation’s premier gateway to space, we are proud to be part of the team providing GPS and its capabilities to the world,” said Brig. Gen. Wayne Monteith, 45th SW commander, who served as the Launch Decision Authority. “GPS IIF-11 was the 16th launch this year for the wing. Our team diligently prepared for this important mission through a series of rigorous rehearsals, readiness reviews and pre-operational checkouts. Together, with the Space and Missile Systems Center and our industry partners, we make up one team delivering assured space launch and combat capabilities for the nation.”
This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V EELV 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing and no solid rocke tboosters. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.
A military-contractor team is currently preparing the final spacecraft in the IIF series, GPS IIF-12, for launch next year. An Air Force-led processing team at Cape Canaveral has processed every launch of the series since GPS IIF-1 launched here in May 2010.
GPS IIF-11 will join the GPS worldwide timing and navigation system that utilizes 24 satellites in six different orbital planes. Round-the-clock, real-time global coverage is enabled by a minimum of four satellites per plane positioned in orbit approximately 11,000 nautical miles above the Earth’s surface. Compared to earlier genrations of Global Positioning System satellites, the GPS IIF series provides improved accuracy and enhanced performance for GPS users.
Featuring a new operational third civil signal – L5 – that benefits commercial aviation and safety-of-life applications, the GPS IIF series provides improved accuracy through advanced atomic clocks, a longer design life than previous GPS satellites on orbit.
“The GPS IIF satellites play a key role in our modernization effort to provide new space-based capabilities for users around the globe and for decades to come,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Air Force Program Officer for Space. “The successful outcome of today’s mission is due to the tremendous commitment of a world class team focused on mission success.”
According to the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, the GPS constellation is healthy, stable and robust with two GPS IIA, 12 GPS IIR, seven GPS IIR-M, and 10 GPS IIF satellites on orbit providing precise global positioning, navigation, and timing services to users around the globe.
The Global Positioning System network is operated by trhe Air Force Space Command’s 50th Space Wing at Schriever Air Force Base, located east of Colorado Springs, Colo. Originally designed for the military user, has become a global utility depended upon by more than two billion GPS users worldwide.
“The successful outcome of today’s mission is due to the tremendous commitment of a world class team focused on mission success,” said Col. Steve Whitney, director of the Space and Missile Systems Center’s Global Positioning Systems Directorate. “I am pleased to say it’s truly an honor and privilege to be part of a mission that plays such a critical role in our nation’s infrastructure. To the men and women of SMC, the 45th, 50th, 310th Space Wings, Boeing, United Launch Alliance, The Aerospace Corporation, GPS IIF and the Atlas V launch teams, thank you!”
Recently, the Air Force and commercial launch providers have relied on GPS satellites currently on orbit to track most missions they launch from the Eastern Range at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
This mission was ULA’s 11th launch in 2015 and the 102nd successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006. ULA’s next launch is the Atlas V OA-4 capsule for Orbital ATK scheduled for Dec. 3 from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
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