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United Launch Alliance aiming for 2nd launch this week

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Aug 1, 2014, 18:38 UTC

Sen—United Launch Alliance (ULA) is preparing for its second launch this week from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The company, a partnership of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, aims to launch an Atlas 5 rocket carrying a next-generation Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite late Friday.

Liftoff, which is slated for 11:23 p.m. EDT (0323 GMT), would come just four days after ULA launched a Delta 4 rocket with three satellites for the U.S. Air Force.

“The highest priority always remains a one-launch-at-a-time focus on safely and reliably delivering these national assets,” Laura Maginnis, ULA deputy director of mission management, told reporters during a prelaunch press conference.

“There are similar systems between the Atlas 5 and the Delta 4,” added Walter Lauderdale, director of the upcoming GPS mission, designated GPS 2F-7.

“We want to make sure that anything we might observe on one particular mission doesn’t raise a concern for the mission that follows,” Lauderdale told reporters. “We do a very careful analysis of the flight to make sure that there’s nothing that we don’t understand.”

With no technical concerns, managers cleared the launch team to proceed with plans to send the seventh advanced GPS satellite into orbit.

Once in position about 11,000 miles above Earth, the satellite will join a 31-member operational network that provides navigation signals and timing services to the U.S. military and civilian users worldwide.

The next-generation GPS satellites, which are designed to last 12 years, provide stronger, more accurate positioning signals as well as a new commercial aviation search-and-rescue signal. They also are more resistant to jamming.

"The GPS constellation is healthy, robust and more capable than it has ever been in GPS history,” said Bill Cooley, director of the U.S. Air Force’s Global Positioning System Directorate.

The new satellite will allow a 22-year-old GPS spacecraft to be put in a standby mode. In addition to 31 operational spacecraft, the constellation currently includes six elder spacecraft in so-called “residual” status, Cooley said.

“Those six all have varying degrees of unhealthy components,” he added.

The Air Force plans to launch one more advanced GPS satellite this year, two in 2015 and two in 2016 to complete the 12-member network upgrade.