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Atlas rocket blasts off with GPS satellite

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Oct 30, 2014, 1:06 UTC

Sen—An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida Wednesday, sending the eighth member of the U.S. Air Force's next-generation Global Positioning System navigation network into orbit. 

The 189-foot tall rocket bolted off its seaside launch pad at 1:21 p.m. EDT, just 17 hours after a launch accident claimed an Orbital Sciences Corp Antares rocket flying from a commercial launch pad on NASA's Wallops Island Flight Facility in Virginia. 

“The 45th Space Wing and the launch team evaluated the Atlas 5 launch vehicle for common components with the failed Antares launch vehicle … (and) have determined that these common components do not introduce any additional risk to the success of the Atlas 5 GPS mission,” the Air Force said in a statement before launch. 

The Antares rocket, making its fifth flight, exploded about 10 seconds after liftoff, destroying a Cygnus cargo ship bound for the International Space Station. The cause of the accident is under investigation.

Orbital Sciences and NASA have not yet released information about the extent of the damage to the Virginia-owned launch pad, the only one that can support Antares flights. 

Orbital Sciences is one of two companies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station following the retirement of the space shuttles in 2011. Orbital's next mission had been slated for April. 

Meanwhile, United Launch Alliance's Atlas rocket carried a $245 million  Global Positioning System satellite that is part of a planned 12-member upgrade, designed Block 2F. The new satellites, which are designed to last 12 years, feature greater accuracy, stronger anti-jamming protection and a commercial aviation search-and-rescue signal.

Three more satellites in the new series are slated to launch next year, with the 12th and final member targeted to fly in 2016.