New Military Space Rocket Launches Navigation Satellite
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) _ An advanced navigation satellite circled Earth today, boosted into orbit on the inaugural liftoff of the Delta 2, the first of the post-Challenger space rockets developed to launch vital military payloads.
″It was in every way a picture perfect launch,″ Air Force Lt. Col. Bob Tayloe, the launch director, said after Tuesday’s successful liftoff. ″The satellite came up very strong and we’re receiving a good signal.″
The Delta 2 is the first of at least 54 new unmanned rockets the Pentagon is ordering in a $14 billion program to launch much-needed reconnaissance, navigation, communications and other national security satellites.
About 40 of these payloads have been grounded for lack of a launch vehicle since the shuttle Challenger exploded three years ago, killing seven astronauts.
As a result of the accident, the Air Force decided it was a mistake to abandon unmanned rockets and to use the shuttle for sole access to space. It ordered three new rocket systems, the medium-size Delta 2 and Atlas 2 and the large, more powerful Titan 4.
The Delta 2 was the first to fly. On its debut, it carried into orbit the $65 million Navstar Global Positioning satellite, the first payload removed from the shuttle manifest to a throwaway rocket.
The satellite entered an initial elliptical orbit ranging from about 100 to 11,000 miles above Earth. On Thursday, an on-board motor will be fired to shift the satellite into a circular orbit of about 11,000 miles high.
The 3,675-pound satellite is an advanced version of of seven earlier model Navstars currently in orbit. It will enable U.S. and allied military units such as ships, planes, submarines and tanks to locate their positions within 50 feet by using an encrpyted channel. The accuracy for civilian users will be within 300 feet.
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 original plan was to launch all 21 on NASA’s space shuttle fleet. But that idea was scrapped after the Challenger explosion. Now, only two remain scheduled on the shuttle.
The Air Force has ordered 20 Delta 2s from McDonnell Douglas, 23 Titan 4s from Martin Marietta and 11 Atlas 2s from General Dynamics. It is negotiating for 26 more Titan 4s.
The Titan 4 is scheduled to make its first flight next month. The Atlas 2 debut is set for next year.