Delta Rocket Wistfully Sets Itself On Fire For The Last Time Before Launch

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After a historic run that saw it remain America’s largest rocket before the launch of the Space Launch System (SLS), the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) iconic Delta IV Heavy rocket took to the skies for the last time earlier today from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. The rocket, perhaps best known for setting its base on fire before launch to burn propellant, completed 16 launches in its lifetime and launched payloads weighing at least 46,000 pounds to orbit, making the SLS the only rocket to have surpassed it in delivery mass despite the SpaceX Falcon Heavy being capable of generating more thrust.

Delta IV Heavy’s Final Launch Completes ULA’s Shift To New Vulcan Platform

Most of the Delta IV Heavy’s flights were for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) due to the rocket’s major performance punch, which allowed it to put as much as 63,000 pounds in low Earth orbit (LEO) and half that capacity in the higher geosynchronous orbit. The final launch that took to the skies earlier today was delayed for more than a week after a previous attempt was stopped at the last moment due to a pump failure in the ground systems that made ULA roll the rocket back to its holding facilities.

Today’s launch was a picture perfect event, with the rocket setting itself on fire seconds before its massive RS-68 rocket engines manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne ignited. Capable of generating more than seven hundred thousand pounds of thrust, the RS-68 was the world’s largest hydrogen rocket engine, with the Delta IV Heavy using three of these engines to generate a little over 2.1 million pounds of thrust.

The rocket’s first successful launch occurred in 2007, three years after its first attempt failed to meet orbital targeting objectives.

Following liftoff, the Delta IV Heavy steadily coasted to its destination and weighed one half of its lift off weight roughly three minutes after lift off. The two side boosters were jettisoned a minute after that, with the main booster’s engine shutting down roughly six minutes post lift off. After booster engine cutoff, the second stage’s RL-10 engine deployed and extended its engine nozzle. The RL-10 is one of the few second stage rocket engines in the world with such a nozzle design, and the engine successfully completed its pre start, start and full thrust firing.

The Delta IV Heavy’s final launch also marks the completion of the Delta rocket program, one of the oldest in U.S. rocket history. This program ran its course for more than six decades, finishing hundreds of launches through rockets of different capabilities.

With the Delta now in history, its maker, ULA, will focus on the Vulcan Centaur and its highly anticipated flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). The Vulcan will carry two NASA astronauts to space through the Starliner spacecraft, with the mission expected to take to the skies next month for the rocket’s second flight.

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