Final 'single-stick' Delta IV rocket launches GPS satellite

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One of the oldest and most powerful rockets in operation blasted off from Cape Canaveral for the last time Thursday.

United Launch Alliance launched a next-generation GPS satellite for the U.S Air Force into space using its Delta IV Medium rocket. Lift-off happened at 9:06 a.m. after a possible hydrogen leak and a five minute delay to complete second stage propellant conditioning.



The satellite, named Magellan, is the second Global Positioning System III (GPS III) satellite built by Lockheed Martin for the U.S. Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center. It is part of the Air Force’s plan to upgrade and replace the 31 satellites in the Global Positioning System.

The new satellite offers improved accuracy, better anti-jam resiliency and a new signal for civil users.

“It’ll go from a 10 foot radius to a three foot radius and for those of us using our smartphones it’ll make for more accuracy,” said Kristin Jones, communication manager for L3 Harris Technologies, the company that built the GPS technology. “[We] maybe won’t see much of a difference but for a warfighter or for someone in search and rescue operations they’ll have a better pinpoint.”

MOBILE USERS: Click here to watch the rocket launch

Lockheed Martin Spokesperson Chip Eschenfelder said the new satellite will have an accuracy that is three-times greater than the old satellite and anti-jamming capabilities that are eight times stronger. He said Magellan will also have a new civil signal called L1C and will be operable with other GPS-like systems like Europe’s Galileo System.

“Think of it as the more places your phone can connect up to, the more solid your GPS is,” Eschenfelder said. “Sometimes you’re behind a building or in a valley or something and you’re phone loses track of a satellite. Now it will be able to find more satellites.” Eschenfelder said Magellan is expected to begin test operations in a couple weeks.

Thursday’s launch was the 29th and final launch for the Delta IV Medium rocket. Since its first launch in November 2002 it has carried everything from critical communications to weather satellites into space.