Two Air Force Space Command space operations squadrons, the 2nd SOPS and 19th SOPS at Schriever AFB, Colo., took charge of the new GPS satellite shortly after its launch March 24. “We’re getting ready to provide its combat effects to warfighters as soon as possible,” said Lt. Col. Douglas Schiess, 2nd SOPS operations officer. The GPS IIR-20(M) spacecraft is the 34th satellite in the GPS constellation, with 31 of those 34 currently transmitting navigation and timing signals to users. AFSPC had planned to launch the satellite in June 2008, but there was a fault with the 40-second timer that triggers separation of the third stage booster that Air Force and contractor engineers had to resolve first, according to Lt. Col. John Wagner, mission director with Space and Missile Systems Center’s Launch and Range Systems Wing at Los Angeles AFB, Calif. (Schriever report by SSgt. Don Branum)
NASA, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance are all preparing to launch their next-gen rockets from Florida’s Space Coast, two of them before the year is out. One is expected to liberate the U.S. launch enterprise from its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 engines, while all three rockets could eventually carry astronaut crews.