If all goes according to plan, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V will launch today from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and its progress monitored via GPS tracking to ensure the rocket stays on the correct course. Dillon Rice, a range operations engineer with United Launch Alliance, said the system for tracking the rocket is similar to the one used in cars, “We’re talking to the same satellites.”
When the Atlas V launches, it will be the first time the Air Force has used GPS tracking as the primary source of information to determine the rocket is flying on course. In the past, launches have been entirely dependent on radar and earlier this year a launch was delayed when a radar station suffered fire damage. “The nice thing about the GPS metric tracking system is that we’re no longer reliant on the radars,” said Rice. “It increases our launch availability.”
Information from the GPS tracking system supplements telemetry from the rocket’s flight computers which allows the Mission Flight Control Officer to make tough safety decisions, like whether the rocket needs to be exploded to protect the general public. Radar will still be used as a third source, but the reduction in use will save the Air Force about $1 million annually.