United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched a Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite for the U.S. Air Force on Friday. The satellite was launched aboard the Delta IV rocket from Space Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
For ULA, Friday’s launch marked the sixth GPS launch for the U.S. Air Force. The Delta IV Medium rocket configuration is powered by a main engine, RS-68A, while the second stage is powered by the RL 10B-2. There has been controversy over the usage of Russian-manufactured engines in the Atlas V rocket but the Delta IV employs two rockets that are manufactured by the U.S.-based Aerojet Rocketdyne. According to ULA, the Delta IV can carry more than 12,247 kilograms (27,000 pounds) to geosynchronous transfer orbit and more than 9,979 kilograms (22,000 pounds) to low-Earth orbit.
Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, said in a statement, “ULA is honored to work with this world-class U.S. government and contractor mission team, and we are proud to contribute to the GPS capabilities that were delivered to orbit today.” The GPS IIF satellites are part of a global timing and navigation system consisting of 24 satellites located 11,000 miles above the surface of the Earth, notes ULA.
The next scheduled launch for ULA will be for the National Reconnaissance Office on May 22. The secret spy satellite launch, NROL-33, will use the Atlas V 401 rocket as part of the mission. The NROL-33 manifest is classified but the mission description, as reported by ULA, is to support national defense and the NROL-33 patch features a winged female warrior carrying a sword with lasers shooting from her left palm.
The NROL-33 launch will be interesting as it comes after a temporary injunction, which has since been lifted, a SpaceX lawsuit and recent comments made by Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Military-Industrial Commission Dmitry Rogozin. On Twitter, Rogozin said he wants to ban the export of Russian-made engines, the RD-180 engines manufactured by NPO Energomash, for use in military launches and later threatened to pull Russian support of the International Space Station after 2020.
@fka_roscosmos doesn't plan to continue cooperation with the US on the ISS after 2020
— Dmitry Rogozin (@DRogozin) May 13, 2014
The Atlas V 401 rocket uses the RD-180 engines and ULA has addressed the recent comments by Rogozin. The ULA said in a statement, “ULA and our Department of Defense customers have always prepared contingency plans in the event of a supply disruption. ULA has two launch vehicles that can support all of customers’ needs. We also maintain a two-year inventory of engines to enable a smooth transition to our other rocket, Delta, which has all U.S.-produced rocket engines."
ULA, a joint venture by Lockheed Martin and Boeing, has completed five launches in 2014 and 82 launches since 2006. A video of the GPS IIF-6 launch can be viewed below.