February 5, 2016 – United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched its first mission of the year with an Atlas V rocket carrying the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-12 satellite for the U.S. Air Force. The rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 on February 5 at 6:38 a.m. MST. Three hours and 23 minutes later, the spacecraft was released into its medium Earth orbit of about 12,000 miles. Signal acquisition was confirmed at 10:09 a.m. MST.
Originally designed for military users, GPS is critical to U.S. national security and provides reliable velocity, navigation and timing services for more than two billion users worldwide. GPS is the Department of Defense’s largest satellite constellation with 31-operational satellites on orbit.
GPS IIF-12 is the final satellite in the IIF-block of satellites, which incorporate numerous improvements to provide greater accuracy, increased signals and enhanced performance for users.
“Congratulations to the ULA, Boeing and Air Force teams on the successful launch of GPS IIF-12. We began launching the IIF satellites in May 2010 and have appreciated the outstanding teamwork of everyone involved as we have worked together to deliver all 12 IIF satellites. This system provides incredible capabilities to our women and men in uniform while enabling so many technologies that impact all of our daily lives. We are proud to be GPS’s ride to space,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA vice president, Custom Services.
This mission was ULA’s 104th successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006.
The mission was launched aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing. 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.
Today’s flight utilized a newly designed suite of avionics, flight software and ground systems. This upgraded command and control system was designed to reduce cost and improve reliability.
ULA’s next launch is the Delta IV NROL-45 mission for the National Reconnaissance Office, scheduled for February 10 from Space Launch Complex-6 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
ULA program management, engineering, test, and mission support functions are headquartered in Centennial, Colorado.
The next generation of GPS satellites, the GPS III, is currently being designed and built at Lockheed Martin’s advanced satellite manufacturing facility in Littleton, Colorado. With eight satellites under contract, the production line is now on a steady tempo with the first four GPS III satellites in various stages of assembly and testing. Raytheon is developing the command and control capabilities for this new GPS III family of satellites in Aurora, Colorado.