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U.S. Air Force launches new GPS satellite

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida (Reuters) -- The U.S. Air Force launched its latest Global Positioning System satellite Monday and it will begin service to U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf in record time.

The NAVSTAR GPS 2R-9 satellite was launched aboard a Boeing Delta 2 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 4:54 p.m. EST.

The new satellite will join a constellation of 27 GPS satellites in orbit 12,700 miles above Earth.

GPS satellites, which provide navigation and positioning aides to everyone from astronomers to pleasure boaters, are primarily for use by the military and are being used extensively to deliver "smart" bombs to targets in Iraq.

After launch, GPS satellites usually require about 60 days for system checks and calibrations, but this satellite will be pressed into service in less than two weeks, the Air Force said.

Brig. Gen. Greg Pavlovich, commander of the Air Force's 45th Space Wing, said the GPS constellation has effectively extended the battlefield into Earth orbit since the first Gulf War, when GPS took a back seat to more traditional guidance and radar systems.

"The battlefield really does start here," said Pavlovich. "Space is critically important to national security and you simply can't fight wars without it."

The $90 million mission will replace a still-functioning GPS satellite in orbit since 1989.

The launch was delayed by 15 minutes while technicians fixed a problem with safety equipment that would have been used to destroy the rocket if it flew off course.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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