CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A Navstar navigation satellite rocketed into orbit Saturday to become part of a network of spacecraft that guide bombers, warships, missiles and ground troops with pinpoint accuracy.
An Air Force Delta 2 rocket propelled the $65-million satellite into an orbit ranging out to 11,000 miles high after a fiery liftoff that brilliantly illuminated the sky.
The Delta 2's liftoff was delayed five minutes to keep the vehicle well away from the space shuttle Atlantis, which was sailing through space 195 miles above South America shortly before the Air Force rocket began its southeasterly climb toward orbit.
Air Force Col. Marty Runkle said the launch Saturday was normal, although confirmation was delayed because a tracking station normally used to relay data about third-stage performance was being used to support the shuttle instead.
The Navstar, which was launched from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station next to Kennedy Space Center, is the fourth in a series of 21 spacecraft that enable U.S. and allied military units such as planes, ships, submarines, tanks and field troops to precisely determine their positions to within 50 feet in any type of weather anywhere in the world.
Military users tune in on the network's radio signals, using receivers as small as a hand-held telephone.
The satellites also keep track of the speed of military units within a fraction of a mile per hour and the precise time within a millionth of a second.
The first three Navstars were launched earlier this year. Seven earlier Block 1 Navstars also are obiting the Earth. The new model has more power and improved systems.