At press time, GPS spacecraft IIF-1 was set to be launched May 27 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This first of a new generation of satellites will travel quickly — instead of taking several days to reach its orbital slot, the new satellite should make the journey in three-and-a-half hours.
The new IIFs will broadcast the operational civil L5 signal, intended for safety-of-life applications. It will be compatible with Galileo, GLONASS, and QZSS, with the goal to be interoperable as well. L5 will transmit at a higher power than current civil GPS signals, with wider bandwidth and lower frequency that may enhance indoor reception.
IIF-1 caught its breathless ride aboard a Delta 4 rocket from the United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, formed in late 2006.
Earlier GPS satellites rode on smaller Delta 2 rockets that, although reliable, did not possess the oomph to place space vehicles directly into the orbiting constellation, 11,000 miles high. Delta 2s put satellites into highly elliptical orbits looping from as low as 100 miles above Earth at perigee to the 11,000-mile apogee. At a strategic point, a solid-fuel kick motor attached to the satellites pushed them into position for circular orbit on high.
The more powerful Delta 4 will shoot the IIFs directly into their destination slots. Future IIF launches may also use similarly equipped Atlas 5 rockets. The next IIF satellite, GPS IIF-2, could rise aboard an Atlas 5 as early as November.
The IIF generation, manufactured by Boeing for the U.S. Air Force, is designed not only to broadcast the new civil L5 signal, but have a longer design life of 12 years and faster processors with more memory. “These next-generation satellites provide improved accuracy through advanced atomic clocks, a more jam-resistant military signal, and a new civil signal that benefits aviation safety and search-and-rescue efforts,” said Craig Cooning, vice president and general manager, Boeing Space and Intelligence Systems.
“GPS IIF will increase the signal power, precision, and capacity of the system, and form the core of the GPS constellation for years to come,” said Air Force Col. David Madden, GPS Wing commander.
A total of 12 IIF satellites will make their contribution to getting the new L2C and L5 signals closer to operational capability before the GPS III generation takes over, beginning with a 2014 launch.
As the first spacecraft in the GPS IIF series, GPS IIF-1 underwent stringent and comprehensive testing following shipment to the launch site in February. Tests included verification of key satellite functions as well as end-to-end system testing to verify operations between the satellite and the ground control segment at Schriever Air Force Base in Colorado.
Commands were sent from Schriever to GPS IIF-1 at Cape Canaveral to turn on payloads, reprogram processors, and verify interoperability with user receivers and equipment, both civil and military.
Launch of the satellite, originally scheduled for May 20, was delayed four times because of various technical problems.