New Delta 2 Rocket Launches Navigation Satellite
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ An advanced navigation satellite soared into orbit Tuesday aboard the maiden flight of the Air Force’s new Delta 2 rocket, a booster developed to carry vital military payloads grounded after the space shuttle Challenger explosion.
It was the first of at least 54 new unmanned rockets the Pentagon is ordering in a $14 billion program to resolve a post-Challenger crisis that has seen about 40 needed reconnaissance and other national security payloads languish in storage for want of a launch vehicle.
The Navstar Global Positioning System satellite carried on the Delta 2′s maiden flight Tuesday was the first military payload shifted off the shuttle manifest to a throwaway booster.
The $30 million, 128-foot rocket roared off its launch pad at 1:30 p.m., and the Air Force reported 30 miunutes later it had performed flawlessly in lofting the $65 million satellite into an initial elliptical orbit ranging from about 100 to 11,000 miles above the Earth.
″It was in every way a picture-perfect launch,″ Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Tayloe, the launch director, told a news conference. ″The satellite came up very strong and we’re receiving a good signal.″
On Thursday, an on-board rocket motor is to fire to shift the satellite into a circular orbit about 11,000 miles up.
The 3,675-pound Navstar GPS is an advanced version of seven earlier model Navstars currently in orbit. The new satellite will tell U.S. and allied military forces where they are to within a few feet anywhere on the globe - land, sea or air.
The new satellite has more power and other improved systems and has two information channels instead of one, with the second being encrypted for use only by the military.
Users of the military channel will be able to plot their locations to within 50 feet, in some cases to within 5 or 6 feet, officials said.
Civilian users will have to be satisfied with an accuracy of about 300 feet, still pretty good if a person is in the middle of an ocean or a jungle, said Col. Marty E. Runkle, director of the Joint Global Positioning System Office of the Air Force Space Division.
″Just about any military system or operation you can conceive of can use the GPS system for location - airplanes, trucks, submarines, tanks, troops, whatever,″ Runkle told a news conference. ″Midair refueling or a linkup at sea in dark nights, through the fog, can be done without any communications or turning on of radar. Typically you have to turn on radar and essentially light up the sky.″
The satellite is the first of 21 of the upgraded Navstars the Air Force plans to orbit to complete a global system by 1992, giving anyone anywhere in the world 24-hour access to the positioning information.
The Air Force originally planned to launch all 21 on NASA’s space shuttle fleet. But that plan was scrapped after the shuttle Challenger exploded on Jan. 28, 1986. Now only two Navstars remain scheduled on the shuttle.
Pentagon officials decided after Challenger they had made a mistake in abandoning unmanned rockets to launch all payloads on the shuttle, and authorized the building of three new models of rockets - the medium-size Delta 2 and Atlas 2 and the much larger Titan 4.
The Delta 2, a more powerful version of the earlier Delta rocket that has been flying since 1960, is the first of the new rockets to fly. The Titan 4 is scheduled to debut next month and the Atlas 2 next year.
The grounding of the shuttle and the Air Force Titan 34D rocket, also after a 1986 failure, created a backlog of about 40 reconnaisance, communications, navigation and other national security satellites.
Six more Delta, four Titan and two military shuttle flights scheduled this year will help drain down that backlog.