End of an era for ULA as the last Delta IV Medium rocket leaves launch pad

US sends up another GPS III spacecraft while Blighty ponders the Brexit Satellite

Delta IV Medium
Delta IV Medium launch (pic: ULA)

United Launch Alliance's last Delta IV Medium+ rocket has left the launch pad to put another GPS satellite in orbit.

The end of the road for the Delta IV Medium+ has come after nearly 17 years as ULA looks to phase it, and the Atlas V, out in favour of the upcoming Vulcan Centaur booster in 2021. The Delta IV Medium line has performed 14 launches over the years and is capable of flinging 6,160kg to geostationary transfer orbit.

Consisting of one Common Booster Core (CBC) and two solid rocket boosters to augment the power of the singe RS-68A engine, the expendable Delta IV Medium+ was topped off with a four-metre diameter fairing, housing the second GPS III spacecraft, dubbed "Magellan".

The second stage, the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage (DCSS), powered by a single RL10B-2 engine, will propel the Air Force satellite to the required Medium Earth Orbit (MEO).

Liftoff occurred at 13:06 UTC on 22 August from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, originally built by NASA in the 1960s for uncrewed Apollo-Saturn tests. The pad was overhauled in the 1990s to support the Delta IV.

Delta fans need not feel too sad, though, since the Delta IV CBC will carry on in the form of the monster Delta IV Heavy, used by NASA to send the Orion capsule on its first orbital test flight and the Parker Solar Probe hurtling off toward the sun. The US National Reconnaissance Office plans to use the beast to launch payloads through 2024.

As for the satellite on board, the GPS III is a step up from previous navigation satellites launched for the US Air Force. Military users will enjoy three times the accuracy from the Lockheed Martin-built spacecraft as well as improved anti-jamming capabilities. The satellite, which has an increased lifetime of 15 years ahead of the previous generation, will also broadcast a L1C Civil Signal compatible with other Global Navigation Satellite Systems, such as Europe's Galileo.

Lockheed Martin is under contract with options for up to 32 GPS III and GPS III Follow On (GPS IIIF) satellites.

About that Galileo thing...

The UK has been waving a handbag around concerning Galileo. Britain has failed to come to an arrangement with the EU concerning the use of the secure Public Regulated Service (PRS) signal following Blighty's departure and government officials intend to spank £92m thinking about a Brit-built replacement.

Then, of course, there is the building of it.

The eye-watering potential £5bn price tag of such a constellation has led UK officials to hold talks with its "Five Eyes" allies, including the US, with a view to get help constructing the thing, according to a report in the Telegraph.

Dare we suggest it might be easier to formalise an arrangement to use GPS? ®

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