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History of the Delta Launch Vehicle



Current Delta News

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11-Oct-05 | Mission extensions

Two NASA spacecraft, both launched aboard Delta rockets, may soon have a new lease on life as their primary missions come to an end. Deep Impact (Delta 311) is in a power-down mode and a safe “storage orbit” following its comet encounter in July, while Stardust (Delta 266) will complete its mission in early 2006 with the release and return to Earth of its sample canister. Both probes have functional instruments and reserves of power and fuel, so NASA is hoping that the scientific community will come up with workable proposals for useful follow-on misisons. A formal Announcement of Opportunity is expected later this autumn. (Spaceflight Now, 10-Oct-05)


05-Oct-05 | GP-B mission complete

Gravity Probe B has completed its primary mission, having collected more than 50 weeks of precision orbital data since its launch aboard Delta 304 on 20 April 2004. The data have been downloaded to computers at the mission operations center at Stanford University, where analysis and validation are expected to take as long as a year. Scientists hope the data will verify two effects predicted by Einstein: the geodetic effect of a mass warping local spacetime, and the frame-dragging effect of a rotating mass dragging spacetime around with it. (03-Oct-05 NASA Press Release)


05-Oct-05 | Swift

NASA has announced a major breakthrough in gamma ray astronomy, thanks in part to observations made by the Swift satellite (Delta 309). While long gamma-ray bursts (lasting 2 seconds or longer) are known to be caused by massive star explosions, the origin of short gamma-ray bursts remained a mystery — until now. These bursts are now believed to be caused by the collision of a neutron star with either another neutron star or a black hole. By quickly spotting a short burst on 09 May and autonomously relaying its coordinates to scientists around the world, a whole host of observatories — including Hubble, Chandra, and several ground-based telescopes — were able to study its afterglow in a wide range of spectra. (05-Oct-05 NASA Press Release)


26-Sep-05 | Delta flight 313 – NAVSTAR IIR-14 (M1)

The Air Force’s first “modernized” GPS satellite reached a perfect transfer orbit this morning on the wings of Delta flight 313. Official liftoff time was 23:37:00.531 EDT (25-Sep, or 03:37 on 26-Sep UTC), the very opening of the launch window — the result of a flawless countdown routine.

Once it reaches operational orbit (within the next several days), NAVSTAR IIR-M1 will begin a four-month shakedown cruise as Air Force controllers test its improved resistance to signal interference and confirm its interoperability with existing GPS satellites and receivers. It will ultimately replace NAVSTAR IIA-20, launched in 1993 aboard Delta 220, which has some useful life left and which will be moved to another slot in the constellation.


26-Sep-05 | Next launch

The next Delta launch will be NASA’s CALIPSO and CloudSat, riding aboard a Med-Lite 7420 with a Dual Payload Attach Fitting (DPAF). The pair will fly in close formation to “provide new insight into the role that clouds and airborne particles play in regulating Earth’s weather, climate, and air quality.” They are scheduled to launch from Vandenberg’s SLC-2W on 26 October.


20-Sep-05 | GPS delay

On again, off again: NAVSTAR IIR-M-1 made the schedule for Wednesday evening, 21/22 September, but on Monday it was announced that the flight would be delayed once more. No reason has been revealed to the public. It is now scheduled for no earlier than Sunday night, 25/26 September.


24-Aug-05 | Aqua tells the future

NASA and NOAA have announced a “major advancement” in weather forecasting thanks to experimental data provided by the Atmospheric Infrared Sounder (AIRS) instrument aboard Aqua (Delta 291). “They found incorporating AIRS data into numerical weather prediction models improves the accuracy range of experimental six-day Northern Hemisphere weather forecasts by up to six hours, a four percent increase.” While this may not sound like much, the director of the Joint Center for Satellite Data Assimilation (JCSDA) in Camp Springs, Maryland, where the research was conducted, claims this level of improvement “normally takes several years to achieve.” (24-Aug-05 NASA Press Release)


19-Aug-05 | News round-up

All is quiet on the launch front these days, as the first NAVSTAR IIR-M has been delayed indefinitely yet again. This marks the seventh time that this flight has been rescheduled; at least one of these has been due to possible manufacturing errors in the spacecraft.

Meanwhile, NASA missions launched aboard Delta rockets continue to bring in excellent results. The Spitzer Space Telescope (Delta 300) and Swift (Delta 309) have both been observing black holes. Spitzer found twenty-one quasars (super-massive black holes) in a small patch of sky, hidden behind thick clouds of dust; extrapolating outward means that the quasar population is much closer to predictions than the number previously observed in X-ray and visible light. Swift has spotted “newborn black holes, just seconds old, in a confused state of existence.” Rather than a single burst followed by a gradually-receding afterglow as scientists surmised, black hole formation is marked by multiple, powerful “hiccups.” (03-Aug-05 NASA Press Release) (18-Aug-05 NASA Press Release)

Nearly one year after its launch aboard Delta 307, MESSENGER performed a successful Earth swingby on 02 August, passing 1,267 nautical miles above central Mongolia at 19:13 UTC. The world’s first Mercury orbiter will swoop past Venus (twice) and Mercury (thrice) before reaching its final orbital destination in March 2011. (02-Aug-05 NASA Press Release)


12-Jul-05 | Deep Impact nails it

In the early morning hours of 04 July 2005, Deep Impact completed its mission by sending its impactor probe on a successful collision course with comet Tempel 1. The spacecraft recorded the spectacular plume generated by the high-speed encounter, and scientists have only begun to analyze the data.

The event apparently also generated intense public interest, as the Deep Impact web site logged 80 million hits in one 24-hour period, a new record for NASA (the previous record-holder was the landing of Mars Rover Spirit with 30 million hits).


20-May-05 | Delta flight 312 – NOAA-N

NOAA-N was successfully launched during the early morning hours of Friday, 20 May 2005, aboard a two-stage Delta 7320 rocket.

A perfectly routine countdown and adequate weather conditions at Vandenberg’s SLC-2W led to an on-time liftoff at the beginning of the window, with an official range time of 03:22:01.566 PDT. The Delta II Med-Lite vehicle quickly entered a low-hanging deck of clouds, and further tracking could only be provided by infrared camera and the announcements of the telemetry manager. SECO-1 occurred at T+11 minutes, 24 seconds, and the vehicle entered a long coast phase as it climbed to the apogee of a 100-by-468 nautical mile parking orbit.

At T+59 minutes, 26 seconds, the second stage restarted for a mere 13.3-second burn that circularised the orbit. At T+65 minutes, 44 seconds, the spacecraft was released into its operational orbit of 463.2 by 466.7 nautical miles at a 98.73-degree inclination. The Delta second stage then performed its evasive manoeuvre and depletion burn.

NOAA-N, to be known as NOAA-18 when operational, is a sun-synchronous polar-orbiting element of the POES (Polar Operational Environmental Satellites) constellation. In conjunction with the geostationary GOES system, which enables continuous but low-resolution sensing, POES provides highly detailed weather data as it travels in its relatively low orbit. A pair of POES satellites (NOAA-18 will operate in concert with NOAA-17, already in orbit) transmit images of the entire Earth’s surface every 12 hours.


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