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Atlas 5 blasts off into the night

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Aug 2, 2014, 13:10 UTC

Sen—An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force station Friday with an advanced GPS satellite to bolster a 31-member orbital network.

The 11:23 p.m. EDT (0323 GMT) launch took place just four days after rocket manufacturer United Launch Alliance flew a sister Delta 4 rocket on another mission for the U.S. Air Force. The Eastern Range, which supports all launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, will next be configured for a Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 flight in three days.

Friday night’s launch was to put the seventh next-generation Global Positioning System satellite into orbit for the U.S. Air Force, which operates the network for military and civilian users worldwide.

Once operational, the spacecraft, which cost about $265 million to design and manufacture, will replace a previous-generation GPS satellite that has been flying since 1992.

United Launch Alliance plans to launch the eighth of 12 next-generation GPS satellites in October. The rest will fly in 2015 and 2016, Bill Cooley, director of the Air Force’s Global Positioning System Directorate told reporters before launch.

The new Boeing-built GPS 2F satellites, which are designed to last 12 years, feature greater accuracy, stronger anti-jamming protection and a commercial aviation search-and-rescue signal.

The operational GPS network is comprised of 31 satellites. Once GPS 2F-7 is in place, an older satellite will be moved into a backup position, joining six other spares.