The 12th next generation GPS IIF navigation satellite successfully launched from Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., Friday morning, Air Force Space Command announced. The satellite blasted off atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V booster at 8:38 a.m. local time on Feb. 5. “Today’s launch marks a momentous milestone. … It is the 12th and last GPS IIF satellite and closes out nearly 27 years of launches for the GPS Block II family of satellites,” 45th Space Wing Vice Commander Col. Shawn Fairhurst said in a release. “The GPS IIF satellite performance has been exceptional and is expected to be operational for years to come,” added Space and Missile Systems Center Commander Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves. The first GPS IIF satellite was launched on May 28, 2010, and production of the next GPS IIIA is already in production, with the first launch tentatively slated for 2017. The next generation satellites will improve accuracy, availability, integrity, and resistance to jamming. The last Block IIA launched in the 1990’s will be decommissioned this year, and the remaining constellation will comprise a total of 31 satellites divided between Blocks IIR, IIR Modernized, and IIF. (GPS fact?sheet.)
U.S. Air Force F-35s and F-22s regularly deploy deep into the Pacific region from Alaska, Utah, and Hawaii. In the future, though, the head of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command would like to see the Air Force permanently station fifth-generation aircraft west of the international date line—closer to China.