United Launch Alliance (ULA) has returned their workhorse Delta-IV launch vehicle to operational service with successful delivery of the 3,600-pound Global Positioning System (GPS) Block IIF-5 satellite to orbit for the U.S. Air Force on Feb. 20, 2014, and AmericaSpace was there to cover it all from various angles.
Liftoff of the 21-story-tall rocket—which roared to space on the added power of two ATK-supplied 60-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEM-60) mounted on opposing sides of the rocket—occurred at 8:59 p.m. EST, following a delay by the launch team due to concerns over solar radiation (original T-0 was scheduled for 8:40 p.m. EST).
Click HERE to read our in-depth launch and mission story.
The launch, although successful, actually lifted off four months later than planned due to an investigation from the aftermath of a problematic Delta IV ascent in October 2012 when a Delta IV Medium rocket suffered a period of unexpectedly reduced thrust in its Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne-built RL-10B2 upper stage engine. In that case the rocket compensated for the problem and delivered its GPS IIF-3 primary payload into its correct orbit, but that was not good enough for ULA—or their USAF customer—and so a joint investigation was given the “GO” to get to the bottom of it.
VIDEO: Pad footage from various angles. Credit: Jeff Seibert, Mike Barrett / Wired4Space / AmericaSpace
With ULA’s Delta-IV back in action and GPS IIF-5 in orbit, the focus now turns to the company’s next launch, one that will deliver a classified payload into orbit for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office no earlier than March 25, 2014. The mission, identified as NROL-67, will launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., atop ULA’s other proven workhorse launch vehicle, the Atlas-V.
The next Delta-IV launch is currently scheduled for mid-May 2014, one which will deliver the next GPS satellite, identified as GPS IIF-6, to orbit.
Although a Delta-II rocket will return to service (temporarily) to launch NASA’s Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in early July, the next Delta-IV launch (after GPS IIF-6) will not occur until September 2014. That flight will begin what is arguably one of the most anticipated missions of the last few years—Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1)—which will put NASA’s Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Capsule to the test atop the monstrous Delta-IV Heavy rocket. America’s biggest and most powerful rocket, which stands 235 feet tall and can generate some two million pounds of thrust, will send the uncrewed Orion on a test flight to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles—15 times higher than the orbit of the International Space Station and 10 times higher than any human-rated spacecraft has been since 1972, when the crew of Apollo 17 visited the moon.
Written by AmericaSpace writers Ben Evans and Mike Killian.
BELOW – All photos credit Alan Walters, John Studwell, and Matt Gaetjens, all rights reserved.Missions » GPS » GPS IIF-5 » Missions » GPS »