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Delta IV-Medium rocket carries key military satellite on final flight

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV GPS III Magellan rocket launched on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

AIRMAN 1ST CLASS DALTON WILLIAMS/U.S. AIR FORCE

By CHABELI HERRERA | Orlando Sentinel | Published: August 22, 2019

(Tribune News Service) — After 17 years and 29 missions, the final Delta IV rocket to ever fly in a medium configuration soared over the Space Coast one last time Thursday morning.

Launch provider United Launch Alliance is phasing out the class of rockets as it prepares to debut its Vulcan Centaur rockets from with launches from Kennedy Space Center as early as April 2021. ULA already phased out its lighter lift vehicle, the Delta II, in September 2018. The third variant, Delta IV-Heavy, still has five more missions ahead before it, too, is taken out of circulation.

“When we retire the entire product line then we’ll do something to commemorate that,” said Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs. A Delta II will be displayed at Kennedy Space Center’s Rocket Garden.

The launch took off at 9:06 a.m. from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s launch complex 37, causing congestion near Kennedy Space Center early Thursday morning as cars poured in with spectators hoping to catch a final glimpse of the Delta IV-Medium.

ULA launched an important payload for the U.S. Air Force on Thursday: The second in a series of next-generation GPS satellites that will provide connectivity for more than 4 billion military, commercial and civil users. The satellites have three-times better accuracy and eight-times improved anti-jamming capabilities that will be particularly critical for military troops to protect their signals from interception by opposing forces. The spacecraft will also be able to stay in orbit 15 years — about 25% longer than the GPS satellites in orbit today.

The satellites, built by Lockheed Martin and called GPS III, will eventually replace the satellites on-orbit today and provide the added capability of connecting with Europe’s GPS system, Galileo.

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