US Air Force and United Launch Alliance recently launched a GPS IIF-12 satellite on an Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch importance for all of us — specially those of us who rely heavily on GPS for commuting.
That is because this rocket launched the last satellite in the series of Block IIF satellites which consists of a constellation of 12 satellites, deployed to help improve the Global Positioning System, or more fondly called, the GPS.
The Global Positioning System aka GPS, which is widely used all over the world for mapping and navigation, is controlled by the US millitary. The system is maintained by a constellation of satellites, the first of which was launched into the orbit in 1978.
Before the Block IIF series, there were Block I, Block IIA, Block IIR, and Block IIR-M groups of satellites. Together, they have launched 50 such satellites out of which 30 are currently operational.
The latest series of 12 satellites, known as Block IIF, were launched between the year 2010 and 2016. These satellites are expected to improve accuracy of GPS system from 1 meter to 42 cms.
After the launch of final satellite of Block IIF series,Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, Space and Missile Systems Center commander and Air Force program officer for space, said in a statement,
This is a significant milestone for GPS, the 50th GPS satellite to be delivered on-orbit. The GPS IIF satellite performance has been exceptional and is expected to be operational for years to come.
In addition to this commonly used GPS system by US, Russia too has its own satellite navigation system called as GLONASS (GLObal NAvigational Satellite System) which uses 24 satellites. These two systems are currently the only operating satnav systems which cover the complete globe.
In future, the European Union and China are also planning to launch their own global satnav systems. The EU is developing a constellation of 30 satellites called Galileo whereas China will launch the BeiDou Navigation System with 35 satellites. China also has its own regional GPS system known as BeiDou-1.
India is also working towards developing its own regional navigation system known as the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS). IRNSS is a collection of 7 satellites out of which 5 satellites, namely, IRNSS-1A, IRNSS-1B, IRNSS-1C, IRNSS-1D, and IRNSS-1E, have already been placed in the orbit.
IRNSS-1E was successfully launched just a couple of weeks back and the remaining satellites are expected to be launched before March this year.