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History of the Delta Launch Vehicle

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Archive for 2000

14-Aug-00 | NASA to launch a pair of Mars rovers

NASA has announced it will launch twin rovers to Mars in 2003. (NASA Press Release, 10-Aug-00) Both landers will use the tetrahedral airbag landing system proven on Mars Pathfinder in 1997. Unlike Pathfinder, the science packages will be 100% rover, without base stations. Two separate regions on Mars are targeted. The missions will fly on identical Delta II (7425) vehicles; the addition of a second mission deals with NASA’s surplus rocket problem caused by the cancellation of the Mars 2001 lander. (28-Mar-00 NASA Press Release)

16-Jul-00 | Next launch

The launch of flight 279 has cleared the way for Boeing to focus on the next Delta launch, which will be the return-to-flight of Delta III, designated DM-F3, carrying a dummy payload to geostationary transfer orbit. The payload simulates “the mass and frequency characteristics of common commercial communication payloads sized for Delta III,” specifically a Hughes HS-601HP, and will travel a nearly identical flight profile to that of Delta 269, which left Orion 3 stranded in an incorrect orbit. (Boeing press release)

16-Jul-00 | Delta flight 279 – NAVSTAR IIR-5

A Delta II 7925 vehicle lifted off at the opening of its window this morning, successfully placing NAVSTAR 2R-5 into its proper transfer orbit.

Delta flight 279 left Pad 17A at an official range time of 5:17:00.450 EDT. Thanks to the generosity of a friend at Boeing, I was lucky enough to witness the launch from a guest site at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. By the reckoning of my GPS receiver, appropriately enough, the stands were about 2.7 miles from the pad and offered a great view. From the top of the bleachers, the tips of the solid booster motors could be seen above a distant stand of trees. With cloud banks fringing the horizon and a full moon in the western sky, the weather was perfect. A steady breeze kept mosquitoes to a minimum, despite the dire warnings of the efficient and friendly base personnel.

The countdown was almost frighteningly quiet. No vehicle problems were reported. No weather issues or COLAs (collision avoidance periods) came up. The Air Force’s new emphasis on providing adequate marine alerts to the local community (along with the early morning hour) kept any fishing boats from wandering into the debris danger zone. Nothing stood in the way of an on-time launch.

An hour before sunrise, the rocket rose into the dark sky atop a blinding glare and lit up the humid air with a hazy grey glow. Just over a minute into the flight, the air-lit solids burst into action and the spent ground-lits dropped away. The orange glow from the tails of all 6 motors could be seen twinkling as they tumbled. Before the remaining 3 solids could be jettisoned, the vehicle disappeared from view over the thick cloud bank to the east.

NAVSTAR 2R-5, a Global Positioning System replenishment satellite, entered its 101 x 10998 nautical mile transfer orbit less than 26 minutes after liftoff. In about 2 days, the onboard AKM will fire to circularise the orbit. Sixteen more GPS 2R satellites are manifested aboard Delta II. After that will be the end of an era dating back to 1989, as the next-generation GPS 2F satellites are included in the Air Force’s EELV contract for Delta IV rockets.

06-Jul-00 | DS-1 restarts engine after rescue succeeds

Way cool! Deep Space 1 (Delta 261) has restarted its ion engine for the first time since the loss of its star tracker, following a significant rescue mission. Program manager Dr. Marc Rayman’s giddy mission log has the full story.

29-Jun-00 | Radarsat-2 reprieve

Radarsat-2 will fly on a Delta II after all. The spacecraft had disappeared from the schedule for quite a while after the U.S. Government balked at the 3-metre ground resolution of the advanced synthetic aperture radar. Apparently those issues have been resolved because no mention is made in either Boeing’s press release or that of Radarsat’s owner and prime contractor, MacDonald Dettwiler.

29-Jun-00 | Delta production to consolidate

Bad news for Huntington Beach as Boeing has announced plans to consolidate Delta production by moving several processes to Pueblo and Decatur. This has likely been in the works for some time considering the size of the new facility in Alabama. The shift will reduce the Delta workforce by over 300 people in production and support.

16-Jun-00 | Next launch

The next Delta II will carry NAVSTAR 2R-5, a Global Positioning System replenishment satellite. The launch has returned to the schedule, meaning that the stacking issue has been resolved. During initial stacking around the 1st of June, engineers were unable to make the interstage and the second stage thrust skirt mate properly. (The interstage is a hollow cylindrical section atop the first stage that conceals the second stage engine and joins the two stages.) The interstage was suspected of being out of round and was replaced, but a second attempt also failed. Boeing engineers proceeded to take precise measurements of all parts involved to determine what needed modification or replacement. In the meantime, the Air Force chose not to reserve a range slot until the stacking resumed. This flight is slated to carry a “twin videoroc,” a pair of aft-facing cameras mounted 180 degrees apart on the second stage, for an unprecedented view of launch and staging. Unfortunately, the new launch date slipped far enough into the future that the launch window is now over an hour before dawn, and the electrical crew may have to pull the hardware for use on a later flight.

16-Jun-00 | Delta III to launch first dummy payload in Delta history

On Wednesday, Boeing officially announced the next mission for Delta III. Designated DM-F3 (Delta Mission – Flight 3), it will carry a dummy payload to geostationary transfer orbit and will fly some time in mid-August. The payload simulates “the mass and frequency characteristics of common commercial communication payloads sized for Delta III,” specifically a Hughes HS-601HP, and will travel a nearly identical flight profile to that of Delta 269, which left Orion 3 stranded in an incorrect orbit. (Boeing press release)

11-May-00 | Delta flight 278 – NAVSTAR IIR-4

Another perfect flight for Delta II as Air Force controllers have made contact with NAVSTAR 2R-4, the latest addition to the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation, and have determined it to be in its proper orbit. The three-stage 7925 model lifted off from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 17, Pad A, on Wednesday, 10 May, at 21:48 EDT, the opening of a 29-minute window. Spacecraft separation occurred 25 minutes, 19 seconds later.

NAVSTAR (Navigation Signal Timing and Ranging) 2R-4 is the fourth upgraded model to fly and the 31st satellite in the Block 2 (operational) constellation. All have flown aboard Delta II’s (the experimental Block 1 GPS sats flew on Atlases), and 17 additional Block 2R’s are manifested over the next few years. This satellite replaces NAVSTAR 2-1, the original Block 2, which was launched aboard the very first Delta II on 14 February, 1989. NAVSTAR 2-1, having exceeded its 7-year design lifetime, suffered shutdown of its reaction wheels on 26 March and was decommissioned on 14 April.

In additional GPS news, on 1 May the Air Force ceased the use of selective availability (SA), a system that intentionally degrades the GPS signal available to civilian users. SA was arguably meant to prevent potential enemies from using off-the-shelf receivers in missile targeting systems, but the White House and the Department of Defense agreed “that worldwide transportation safety, scientific, and commercial interests could best be served by discontinuation of SA.” (USAF release) SA can be (and still is) used on a regional basis in those parts of the world considered to contain threats to U.S. interests, and the U.S. mililtary continues to use an encrypted portion of the ranging signal for maximum precision. However, the discontinuance of SA means that improvement in accuracy for civilian receivers is thought to have increased up to tenfold, and much of the benefit of more expensive differential (DGPS) receivers is moot.

01-May-00 | Delta launch team awarded

Congratulations to the Boeing Delta II Launch Division! The George M. Low award, NASA’s highest honour for quality and technical performance, has been awarded to the Delta team in the large-business product category. (NASA Press Release, 28-Apr-00)

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