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Air Force GPS navigation satellite arrives on orbit

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A next-generation navigation satellite for the U.S. Air Force received a ride into orbit on Friday following a twilight launch from America's Space Coast.

The Global Positioning System IIF-6 satellite was placed into an orbit 11,040 nautical miles above in a location where it will operate in sync with twenty-three fellow GPS satellites located in six different orbital planes.

The Air Force expects the Navstar spacecraft to operate through 2026.

The United Launch Alliance Delta IV lifted-off into a setting sun over Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on May 16 at 8:03 p.m. EDT, leaving a brilliant smoke trail as it arced out over the Atlantic waters.

Powered by an RS-68 core engine and two solid rocket boosters, the Delta was soaring faster than the speed of sound a minute later as it raced northeasterly up the United States coastline.

The spacecraft later separated from it's upper stage booster just over three hours after launch (11:18:50 p.m.), high above the southern Indian Ocean.

Friday's launch marked the 26th flight of a Delta IV since it's first mission in 2002.

The GPS IIF-6 carries signal standards for both military and civilian users.

A mightier Delta IV-Heavy is scheduled to lift-off this December from the same launch pad to carry into space an unmanned NASA Orion spacecraft on a test flight for future manned space missions.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)