By Michael Sirak

The Air Force and its industry partners say they successfully launched a Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation satellite into space yesterday as part of continual efforts to replace older members of the on-orbit GPS constellation with new more capable assets.

The Lockheed Martin [LMT]-built satellite, designated GPS IIR-17(M), traveled into orbit aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta II launch vehicle fired from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. It will now undergo on-orbit test and check-out activities.

“Lockheed Martin is extremely proud of its partnership with the Air Force to sustain and improve the GPS constellation,” Don DeGryse, Lockheed Martin’s vice president of Navigation Systems, said in the company’s Oct. 17 statement. “We look forward to executing a timely and efficient on-orbit checkout of this advanced spacecraft and providing GPS users worldwide with increased navigation capabilities.”

The new asset is the fourth modernized GPS Block IIR satellite (GPS IIR-M) of the eight that the Air Force procured that is now on orbit. It joins the current constellation of 30 GPS satellites of several configurations: Block IIA, Block IIR, Block IIR-M. Air Force Space Command’s 2nd Space Operations Squadron (2 SOPS) at Schriever AFB, Colo., operates the GPS constellation.

GPS satellites provide situational awareness and precision weapons guidance for the military, and support a variety of civil, scientific and commercial functions on land, sea, and air. The Block IIR-M series features increased signal power, improved accuracy, enhanced encryption and anti jamming capabilities.

“The IIR-M satellites play an essential part of the GPS modernization plan to develop and field new capabilities for military and civil users,” the Air Force’s Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), the service’s space acquisition arm, said in an Oct. 17 statement following the launch. “The modernized IIR satellites are the beginning to improve operations, sustainment, and overall GPS service for the warfighter, international, commercial and civil communities.”

The Air Force said yesterday’s launch was the first GPS mission to use the new Launch and Early Orbit, Anomaly Resolution, and Disposal Operations (LADO) system that commands and controls the satellites during launch and early orbit operations. SMC says LADO is capable of exchanging data with the master control station of the Architecture Evolution Plan, the new GPS command-and-control system that went online last month (Defense Daily, Aug. 16 and Sept, 24).

In 2008, the Air Force says it anticipates four GPS launches aboard Delta II rockets.

ULA is the joint venture of Boeing [BA] and Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin’s GPS IIR-M industry team includes payload provider ITT [ITT].