The United Launch Alliance plans to assemble the remaining parts for a Delta 2 rocket at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida along with other US rocket icons, the company announced on Saturday shortly after the final launch of Delta 2 ,
"Just because we recently launched a Delta 2 lift-off for the last time, we do not have to say goodbye," said Tory Bruno, president and CEO of ULA. "I am pleased to announce that the latest Delta 2 rocket will soon take its place in the series of historic rockets at the Rocket Garden, as NASA's Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida."
"Thank you, United Launch Alliance," said Darlene Koenig, Vice President of New Business Development, KSC Visitor Center. "The legacy of Delta 2 will always be in the hearts and souls of our guests."
The latest Delta 2 flight brought NASA's Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite – ICESat 2 – into service at 6:02 pm PDT (9:02 am) after launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California Orbit of nearly 300 miles (about 475 kilometers) EDT; 1302 GMT).
ICESat 2, designed to measure the height and descent of land and sea ice, features an Earth-orb-firing laser firing 10,000 times per second and a telescope to collect laser photons bouncing off the planet's surface into space. By accurately measuring the time required for the laser to travel to and from the satellite, scientists can determine how far the ice extends over the oceans, the height of treetops, and the status of inland water reservoirs.
But the ice measurements are the main reason for ICESat 2, which will expand a series of data from a predecessor satellite called ICESat, which ended its observations in 2009. Scientists say the ICESat mission discovered that ice melts on the edges of Greenland and the Antarctic Sea ice has been thinning all over the world.
The launch on Saturday extended a series of successful Delta 2 flights to 100 in a row, and 153 of Delta's 2 155 starts since 1989 were successful.
Spaceflight Now has covered 68 Delta 2 missions since 2000. Our Delta 2 cover can be viewed here and here.
The basic design of the Delta 2 goes back to the mid-range ballistic missiles of the type Thor in the late 1950s. Engineers boosted the Thor rocket by adding a number of higher-end stages, increasing the size of their fuel tanks, and using solid rocket launchers to move heavier satellites into orbit.
The development of the Thor into a reliable satellite launcher culminated in the Delta 2 rocket, which debuted in 1989 and aired 48 GPS navigation satellites, Mars rovers, interplanetary probes, and numerous military and communications payloads in their nearly 30-year career ,
Read our previous history for details on the legacy of Delta 2.
The Delta 2 was last launched from Cape Canaveral on September 8, 2011, with NASA's GRAIL mission, a pair of probes to measure the Moon's gravity field. Five more Delta 2's were launched by Vandenberg, a spaceport designed to launch into a polar orbit, a platform often used by Earth observation satellites.
When the mid-range missile with the Suomi NPP weather satellite was fired by NOAA of California in October 2011, there were no more launches. The Air Force ended its financial support for the Delta 2 program after the last launch of the rocket in 2009, leaving NASA infrastructure costs to fly the Delta 2.
At that time, the ULA announced it had parts for five more unsold Delta 2 missiles, and NASA eventually ordered four of them to launch Earth Science and Weather Observation Vessels from Vandenberg Air Force Base:
- 2 July 2014: Orbit Carbon Observatory 2
- Jan 31, 2015: Soil Moisture Active Passive
- November 18, 2017: Articulated Polarized Satellite System 1
- September 15, 2018: ICESat 2
The fifth Delta 2 rocket in the ULA inventory never flew. Instead, it is exhibited in the KSC Visitor Complex, a destination for more than 1.5 million visitors a year.
"The Visitor Complex will help us keep the success story of this much-loved rocket in the hearts and minds of the public," said Bruno.
The Delta 2 with its blue color scheme will be among the Rocket Garden vehicles Juno 1, Juno 2, Mercury Redstone, Mercury Atlas, Atlas Agena, Thor Delta and Gemini Titan 2. A Saturn 1B rocket is displayed nearby on its side.
The Delta 2 is the second largest rocket in the Rocket Garden, surpassed only by the Saturn 1B.
"We will be able to show this blue beauty to everyone, and they may have a chance to experience the heritage of Delta 2, the legacy of reliability … and how much Delta 2 has really played in the US government The lives of people with all the scientific missions, commercial missions, and GPS satellites that have changed the way we do business today, "said Mic Woltman, a vehicle systems engineer with the NASA Launch Services Program at the Kennedy Space Center.
"The Delta 2 will live under these giants," said Jennifer Mayo, exhibit and artifact manager at the KSC visitor center. "We will preserve this precious treasure for generations to come."
Bruno added on Twitter that the Delta 2 display will consist of "mostly flyable" hardware.
A new rocket company is to take over Vandenberg's Delta 2 Pad
As soon as the starting crew clean up and secure the Delta 2 Pad in Vandenberg – the Space Launch Complex 2-West – the facility will be handed over to a new tenant.
Firefly Aerospace, a Texas-based company developing a family of commercial smallsat launchers, announced earlier this year its intention to launch its first SLC-2W rocket flights in Vandenberg. The 30th Air Force Space Wing has released a "Statement of Support" for Firefly to launch its Alpha and Beta rockets from the Pacific Ocean Pad.
Tim Dunn, NASA's launch supervisor for the mission ICESat 2, said he hopes for a quick transition from SLC-2W to a new launch operator.
"When the Air Force launched GPS (on Delta 2) in 2009, they completed the program and handed it over to us as head of the Delta 2 program," Dunn said in a recent interview. "So we have to close the program, which means that at the hardware level … we need to find new homes or find a way to dispose of all the hardware, first and foremost the ground support equipment (and) the manufacturing hardware. "
"What you do is try to find new users that you can somehow transfer to the new user, or you need to find a way to discard it at the lowest possible cost," Dunn said. "That's all the equipment for mechanical and electrical ground support, then you have the plot, so there's a process we'll go through at SLC-2 to basically evaluate what the Delta program has been doing over the years at SLC -2, and then make an agreement with the later owner operator, or at least with the real estate owner who is the Air Force.
"So we will back it up, back up, if there are any contaminants, we will remove that from the property and bring it into the configuration."
There remains some "uncertainty" over how much of the Delta 2-era structures and support equipment on SLC-2W will be used by future missiles taking off from the launch pad. The facility includes a mobile gantry, cranes, a fixed navel tower and fuel tanks.
"There are a few other people trying to get SLC-2, so we're working with NASA and this company and others who might be interested to see what the closeout activities are," said Scott Messer. ULA Delta 2 Program Manager without identifying the names of companies interested in the launch pad.
"There is a chance that the new company will take over and retain many of the government-provided equipment, and perhaps even some of the ULA equipment, if they find it useful," said Messer Spaceflight Now. "That is currently undetermined.
"At the moment, we have no latitude and no contractual mandate from NASA to do anything, and if the new tenant retains most of it, then maybe there is no disposition," he said.
More than 70 Thor and Delta rockets have been launched by the SLC 2W launch platform for more than 50 years, including 45 Delta 2 missions since 1995.
The Air Force destroyed the towers of the Delta 2 launchers at Cape Canaveral in July. Moon Express plans to develop a factory and test site on the property for its commercial lunar landing program.
Messer said that the ULA team preparing for the final Delta 2 launch will continue to work on the company's Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets. The Delta 2 production line was closed more than 10 years ago and the launch team of ULA is trained in the Atlas and Delta families.
"They will simply bring the existing product line to market," said Messer.
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