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End of an era for GPS as GPS 2R-M8 is launched

Article by: Mike Barrett & GatorGuy
Date: 19 Aug 2009

pocketgpsworld.comAugust 17th 2009 was a day that ended an era of space flight. This was the day that the US Air Force successfully launched the last of the eight Global Positioning Systems 2R-M satellites on top of a Delta 2 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base.

This was also the last launch of a Delta 2 by the USAF and also marks the disbandment of the USAF 1st Space Launch Squadron. The launch complex 17 which has been the home of the East Coast Delta 2 launches will be taken over by NASA for a couple of their Delta 2 launches before it will be de-commissioned.

Click here
for our video of the launch which shows the first 4 minutes of the rocket's flight on the way into orbit. It captures some critical launch events including secondary motor ignition and jettison of the solid rocket boosters that lifted the spaceship from the launch pad into the upper atmosphere.

The day started for us at about 3 am as GatorGuy and myself headed out on some pretty quiet roads to the pre-dawn press meeting just outside the gates of Cape Canaveral Air Force Base. The mosquitoes were in good form and enjoying an early breakfast as we were delivered the news that due to toxins the press site and alternate press site were both closed for this launch and that the press site inside the AFB did not have a view of the launch pad.

GPS 2R-M8 Satellite launch from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 2 Rocket
The peaceful dawn, minutes before the rocket launch.

Shattered by this news we huddled together with some of the local press guys and decided to go to the beach instead... Well not for a swim, apparently the beach is the best place to get a full view of the launch pad outside the AFB. So just before 6 am we are all set up on the beach with tripods etc waiting for dawn and hoping that the slight shower would blow over and the clouds would not roll in of the Atlantic.

As the launch time was approaching the clouds did come in a bit, and people were jogging on the beach enjoying another typical Floridian dawn. The sky was brightening and was getting the beautiful pink cast to it as the sun starts to rise. But our eyes were targeted 90 degrees north on the Dalta 2 Launch Pad. We could hear the countdown as it was on one of the guy's speaker phones.

GPS 2R-M8 Satellite launch from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 2 Rocket
The Launch of the Delta 2 rocket carrying the GPS 2R-M8 Satellite.

Wisps of vapor could be seen escaping from a vent on the rocket. As the countdown proceeds these change into puffs. Then we hear the immortal words: 3,2,1... and suddenly the dawn is lit up by the explosive ignition of the Delta 2's Main engine and six solid rocket boosters. Our night eyes were burnt out by the sudden bright light, and then within fractions of a second the rocket was on its way into orbit, passing the launch tower and heading up into the sky.

GPS 2R-M8 Satellite launch from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 2 Rocket
Blasting off the launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

Just a few short seconds into the flight the rocket entered a dark cloud and we waited with baited breath for it to come out the other side. We can hear the roar of the boosters as the spaceship climbs higher passing through and lighting up some smaller lighter clouds. As it heads out on it's south easterly course we watch it fly over a crescent Moon and just below Venus glowing brightly in the dawn sky.

GPS 2R-M8 Satellite launch from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 2 Rocket
Separation of the Solid Rocket Boosters

As it passes through yet another cloud the contrail lights up with the beautiful pink of the coming dawn. This is followed almost immediately by a slight flare are the six ground lit SRBs complete their tasks and burnout, to be taken over by three air-lit motors. A second or so later the six SRBs are jettisoned and can be seen sparkling and falling back to Earth into the Atlantic Ocean.

The air-lit motors now power the rocket towards its orbit for about 60 seconds until they too burn out and get jettisoned. If you watch the video closely at the 2 minute 59 second point you will see two tiny whit dots fall away from the rocket.

GPS 2R-M8 Satellite launch from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 2 Rocket
Flying into the dawn skies on its way into orbit.

Now the rocket is flying under it's own power and must reach orbit with the remaining fuel in the main engine and that of the second and third stages. This happens too far downrange for us to see or capture on video. Just over 1 hour from launch the GPS Satellite has achieved the target transfer orbit ready to be positioned in its final orbit and later commissioned.

GPS 2R-M8 Satellite launch from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 2 Rocket
The Delta 2 contrail frames the crescent Moon with the bright light of Venus underneath.

This then closes a chapter in the in the annuals of space flight. The GPS 2R program has been successfully completed with the final satellite being prepared to replace one of the aging spaceships. But, as ever, when one door closes another one opens. Early next year the new GPS 2F program will start to launch on the Delta 4 ELV a more powerful spacecraft. The Delta 4 launches are managed by the USAF 5th Space Launch Squadron.

On behalf of the community of SatNav users we would like to thank everyone involved with the GPS Delta 2 launches and look forward to a similarly successful program with the new Delta 4 delivery platform.
Posted by DeLorean on Wed Aug 19, 2009 5:11 pm Reply with quote

That looked spectacular Very Happy

🔸🔸 Currently using TomTom GO 940 & Locus Map 🔸🔸

Posted by MikeB on Wed Aug 19, 2009 10:02 pm Reply with quote

DeLorean Wrote:
That looked spectacular Very Happy

It was. I was a little miffed that we couldnt get to the press site on the Air Force Base as that offers a view from just 1.5 miles away. The beach was about 4.5 miles from the Launch pads and the rocket passed right by us.

My only wish would have been for less in the way of clouds, but then I can hope for better conditions next time. Shuttle launches in a few days...

Mike Barrett
Editor, PocketGPSWorld.com

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