Delta II

This page was last edited on 6 January 2018, at 04:06.

Delta II is an expendable launch system, originally designed and built by McDonnell Douglas. Delta II is part of the Delta rocket family and entered service in 1989. Delta II vehicles included the retired Delta 6000, and the two currently-used Delta 7000 variants ("Light" and "Heavy"). In 2018, the rocket is scheduled to fly its final mission, ICESat-2, which will earn the launch vehicle a streak of 100 successful missions in a row if successful.

Delta II
Delta II Dawn liftoff 1
A Delta II rocket launches from Cape Canaveral carrying the Dawn spacecraft.
Function Launch vehicle
Manufacturer United Launch Alliance (Boeing IDS)
Country of origin United States
Cost per launch US$51 million in 1987 (7920-10 mod.)[1]
Height 38.2–39 m (125–128 ft)
Diameter 2.44 m (8 ft 0 in)
Mass 151,700–231,870 kg (334,440–511,190 lb)
Stages 2 or 3
Payload to LEO 2,700–6,100 kg (6,000–13,400 lb)
Payload to GTO 900–2,170 kg (1,980–4,780 lb)
Payload to HCO 1,000 kg (2,200 lb)
Launch history
  • Delta 6000: Retired
  • Delta 7000: Active
  • Delta 7000H: Retired
Launch sites Cape Canaveral SLC-17
Vandenberg AFB SLC-2W
Total launches 155
Delta 6000: 17
Delta 7000: 131
Delta 7000H: 6
Successes 153
Delta 6000: 17
Delta 7000: 129
Delta 7000H: 6
Failures 1 (Delta 7000)
Partial failures 1 (Delta 7000)
First flight
Last flight
  • Delta 6000: 24 July 1992 (Geotail)
  • Delta 7000: 18 November 2017 (JPSS-1)
  • Delta 7000H: 10 September 2011 (GRAIL)
Boosters (6000 Series) – Castor 4A
No. boosters 9
Motor Solid
Thrust 478 kN (107,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 266 s
Burn time 56 s
Boosters (7000 Series) – GEM 40
No. boosters 3, 4, or 9
Motor Solid
Thrust 492.9 kN (110,800 lbf)
Specific impulse 274 s
Burn time 64 s
Boosters (7000 Heavy) – GEM 46
No. boosters 9
Motor Solid
Thrust 628.3 kN (141,200 lbf)
Specific impulse 278 s
Burn time 75 s
First stage – Thor/Delta XLT(-C)
Engines 1 RS-27 (6000 series) or RS-27A (7000 series)[2]
Thrust 1,054 kN (237,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 302 s
Burn time 265 s
Fuel LOX/RP-1
Second stage – Delta K
Engines 1 AJ10-118K
Thrust 43.6 kN (9,800 lbf)
Specific impulse 319 s
Burn time 431 s
Fuel N2O4/Aerozine 50
Third stage – PAM-D (optional)
Motor Star 48B
Thrust 66 kN (15,000 lbf)
Specific impulse 286 s
Burn time 87 s


In the early 1980s, all United States expendable launch vehicles were planned to be phased out in favor of the Space Shuttle, which would be responsible for all government and commercial launches. Production of Delta, Atlas-Centaur, and Titan 34D had ended.[3] The Challenger disaster of 1986 and the subsequent halt of Shuttle operations changed this policy, and President Ronald Reagan announced in December of that year that the Space Shuttle would no longer launch commercial payloads, and NASA would seek to purchase launches on expendable vehicles for missions that did not require crew or Shuttle support.[4] McDonnell Douglas, at that time the manufacturer of the Delta family, signed a contract with the U.S. Air Force in 1987 to provide seven Delta IIs. These were intended to launch a series of GPS Block II satellites, which had previously been manifested for the Space Shuttle. The Air Force exercised additional contract options in 1988, expanding this order to 20 vehicles, and NASA purchased its first Delta IIs in 1990 for the launch of three Earth-observing satellites.[5][6] The first Delta II launch occurred in 1989, with a Delta 6925 boosting the first GPS Block II satellite into a 20,000 km high orbit.

The first Delta II 7000-series flew in 1990, replacing the RS-27 engine of the 6000-series with the more powerful RS-27A. Additionally, the steel-cased Castor 4A solid boosters of the 6000 series were replaced with the composite-cased GEM 40. All further Delta II launches except three were of this upgraded configuration, and the 6000-series was retired in 1992.[7]

McDonnell Douglas began Delta III development in the mid-90s as increasing satellite mass required more powerful launch vehicles.[5] Delta III, with its liquid hydrogen second stage and more powerful GEM 46 boosters, could bring twice as much mass as Delta II to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), but a string of two failures and one partial failure, along with the development of the much more powerful Delta IV, led to the cancellation of Delta III program.[8] The upgraded boosters would still find use on the Delta II, leading to the Delta II Heavy.

On March 28, 2003, the Air Force Space Command began the process for deactivating the Delta II launch facilities and infrastructure at Cape Canaveral once the last of the second-generation GPS satellites were launched. However, in 2008, it instead announced that it wouild transfer all the Delta II facilities and infrastructure to NASA to support the launch of GRAIL in 2011.[9]

The last GPS launch aboard a Delta II, and the final launch from SLC-17A at Cape Canaveral AFB was in 2009. The GRAIL Launch in 2011 marked the last Delta II Heavy launch and the last from Florida. The final five launches would all be from Vandenburg.[10]

On July 16, 2012 NASA selected the Delta II to support the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (2014), Soil Moisture Active Passive/SMAP (2016), Joint Polar Satellite System/JPSS (2017), and ICESat-2 (2018) missions. This marked the final purchase of Delta IIs. OCO-2 was launched on July 2, 2014, SMAP was launched on January 31, 2015 and JPSS was launched on November 18, 2017. All of these launches were, or will be, placed into orbit from Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.[11]

The Delta II family has launched 155 times. Its only unsuccessful launches have been Koreasat 1 in 1995, and GPS IIR-1 in 1997. The Koreasat 1 launch was a partial failure caused by one booster not separating from the first stage, which resulted in the satellite being placed in a lower than intended orbit. By using reserve fuel, it was able to achieve its proper orbit and operated for 10 years.[12] The GPS IIR-1 was a total loss as the Delta II exploded 13 seconds after launch. The explosion occurred when a damaged SRB casing ruptured and triggered the vehicle's flight termination system.[13] No one was injured, and the launch pad itself was not seriously impacted, though several cars were destroyed and a few buildings were damaged.[14]

In 2007, Delta II completed its 75th consecutive successful launch,[15] surpassing the 74 consecutive successful launches of the Ariane 4.[16] With the launch of JPSS-1 in 2017, the Delta II has enjoyed 99 consecutive successful launches, with one more scheduled in September 2018.[17][18] Should this launch be successful, the Delta II would achieve an unprecedented 100 consecutive launch successes.[19]

Vehicle description

Foguete Delta II 7425 - Corte esquematico
A Delta II 7425
Delta II second stage
A Delta-K stage

The first stage of the Delta II is propelled by a Rocketdyne RS-27 main engine burning RP-1 and liquid oxygen. This stage is technically referred to as the "Extra-Extended Long Tank Thor", a derivative of the Thor ballistic missile[20] as were all Delta rockets until the Delta IV. The RS-27 used on the 6000-series Delta II produced 915 kN,[21] while the upgraded RS-27A used by the 7000-series produces 1,054 kN.[22] The stage is 26 meters long and 2.4 meters wide, weighs over 100 t when fueled, and burns for 260 seconds.[23] In addition, two LR101-NA-11 vernier engines provide guidance for the first stage.

For additional thrust during launch, the Delta II uses solid boosters. For the 6000-series, Delta II used Castor 4A boosters, while the 7000-series uses Graphite-Epoxy Motors manufactured by ATK. The vehicle can be flown with three, four, or, most commonly, nine boosters. When three or four boosters are used, all ignite on the ground at launch, while models using nine boosters would ignite six on the ground, then the remaining three in flight after the burnout and jettison of the first six.[23]

The second stage of Delta II is the Delta-K, powered by a restartable Aerojet AJ10-118K engine burning hypergolic Aerozine-50 and N2O4. These propellants are highly toxic and corrosive, and once loaded the launch must occur within approximately 37 days or the stage will have to be refurbished or replaced.[24] This stage also contains a combined inertial platform and guidance system that controls all flight events. The Delta-K stage is 6 meters long and 2.4 meters wide, contains up to 6 t of propellant, and burns for up to 430 seconds.[23]

For low Earth orbit, Delta II is not equipped with a third stage. Payloads bound for higher energy orbits such as GTO or to reach Earth escape velocity for trans-Mars injection or other destinations beyond Earth used a solid propellant third stage. This stage was spin-stabilized and depended on the second stage for proper orientation prior to stage separation, but was sometimes equipped with a nutation control system to maintain proper spin axis.[25] It also included a yo-weight system to induce tumbling in the third stage after payload separation to prevent recontact, or a yo-yo de-spin mechanism to slow the rotation before payload release.[25]

Naming system

The Delta II family uses a four-digit system to generate its technical names:[26]

  • The first digit is either 6 or 7, denoting the 6000- or 7000-series Deltas.
  • The second digit indicates the number of boosters.
  • The third digit is 2, denoting a second stage with an Aerojet AJ10 engine. Only Deltas prior to the 6000-series used a different engine, the TR-201.
  • The last digit denotes the third stage. 0 denotes no third stage, 5 indicates a Payload Assist Module (PAM) stage with Star 48B solid motor, and 6 indicates a Star 37FM motor.
  • An H following the four digits denoted that the vehicle used the larger Delta III GEM-46 boosters. The Heavy variant could be launched only from Cape Canaveral (as Vandenberg's pad wasn't modified to handle the larger SRBs), and was retired with the closure of that launch site in 2011.[18]
  • Numbers and letters following those indicate the type of fairing, for example, a -9.5 means that the vehicle has a 9.5 ft diameter fairing.

For example, a Delta 7925H used an RS-27A, nine GEM-46 boosters, and a PAM third stage. A Delta 7320 is a two-stage vehicle with three GEM-40 boosters and no third stage.

Launch description

Launch vehicle build-up 
A Delta II launch vehicle is assembled vertically on the launch pad. Assembly starts by hoisting the first stage into position. The solid rocket boosters are then hoisted into position and mated with the first stage. Launch vehicle build-up then continues with the second stage being hoisted atop the first stage.[27]
It takes approximately 20 minutes to load the first stage with 37,900 liters (10,000 U.S. gal) of fuel.[28]

At T-45 minutes, fueling completion is confirmed. At T-20 minutes, the FTS pyros are armed. At T-20 minutes and T-4 minutes, there are built in holds. During these holds, final checkouts are performed. At T-11 seconds SRB igniters are armed. Ignition is at T-0.4 seconds. The ascent profile varies between missions.

SRB Staging 
If 9 solid rocket boosters are used, only six are ignited at launch. Once the first six are depleted, three air-start motors ignite and the ground-start motors separate. The air-start motors have nozzles optimized for high-altitude as they operate mostly in a near-vacuum during the flight profile.

Delta II launches

Lancement Spirit fusee Delta IIs 10062003
Delta II lifting off with MER-A on June 10, 2003
Delta II Heavy (7925H-9.5) lifting off from pad 17-B carrying MER-B

Notable payloads



As of November 2017, the only remaining Delta II launch scheduled is the ICESat-2 satellite in 2018.[18][29][30]

In 2008 ULA indicated that it had "around half a dozen" unsold Delta II rockets on hand,[31] but ULA CEO Tory Bruno stated in October 2017 that there are no complete, unbooked Delta II rockets left in the ULA inventory; and though there are leftover Delta II parts, there are not enough to build another vehicle.[32] It is possible that the remaining pieces will be used to create a museum piece for the Smithsonian.[33]

Delta rocket evolution
Delta rocket evolution.

Comparable rockets

Space Debris

The only person on record ever hit by space debris was hit by a piece of a Delta II rocket. Lottie Williams was exercising in a park in Tulsa on January 22, 1997 when she was hit in the shoulder by a six-inch piece of blackened metallic material. U.S, Space Command confirmed that a used Delta II rocket from the April 1996 launch of a the Midcourse Space Experiment had crashed into the atmosphere 30 minutes earlier. The object tapped her on the shoulder and fell off harmlessly onto the ground. Williams collected the item and NASA tests later showed that the fragment was consistent with the materials of the rocket, and Nicholas Johnson, the agency's chief scientist for orbital debris, believes that she was indeed hit by a piece of the rocket.[34][35]

See also


  1. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 14, 2014. Retrieved July 1, 2014.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on November 3, 2006. Retrieved November 3, 2006.
  3. ^ Dawson, Virginia (2004). Taming Liquid Hydrogen (PDF). p. 233.
  4. ^ "Reagan Orders NASA To Halt Launch of Commercial Payloads". Associated Press. Aug 16, 1986.
  5. ^ a b Rumerman, Judy (2009). NASA Historical Data Book, Vol. VII: NASA Launch Systems, Space Transportation, Human Spaceflight, and Space Science, 1989-1998 (PDF). NASA. pp. 49–51. NASA SP-4012.
  6. ^ "Archives copy" (PDF). Los Angeles Air Force Base. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 April 2016.
  7. ^ "ULA Delta II successfully lofts OCO-2 to orbit". July 2, 2014. Retrieved July 26, 2014.
  8. ^ "Delta III Data Sheet". Space Launch Report. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  9. ^ Cleary, Mark. "DELTA II & III SPACE OPERATIONS AT CAPE CANAVERAL 1989 – 2009" (PDF). Retrieved 18 November 2017. External link in |website= (help)
  10. ^ "Delta II". Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  11. ^ "NASA Selects Launch Services Contract for Three Missions". NASA. 16 July 2012.
  12. ^ Krebs, Gunter Dirk. "Koreasat 1, 2 (Mugungwha 1, 2) / Europe*Star B".
  13. ^ The Deadly Aftermath of a Rocket Explosion Seconds After Launch Archived February 12, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  14. ^ "Unmanned rocket explodes after liftoff". 1997-01-17. Retrieved 2009-03-31.
  15. ^ "DigitalGlobe Successfully Launches Worldview-1". DigitalGlobe.
  16. ^ "Ariane 5's impressive 75 in-a-row launch record". SpaceDaily. Retrieved 2017-11-19.
  17. ^ "Workhorse Delta 2 returns to launch NASA observatory". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved July 24, 2014.
  18. ^ a b c Graham, William (July 2, 2014). "ULA Delta II successfully lofts OCO-2 to orbit". Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  19. ^ "Delta II Data Sheet". Space Launch Report. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  20. ^ Space Launch Report
  21. ^ "RS-27". Astronautix. Archived from the original on August 13, 2011. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  22. ^ "RS-27A". Astronautix. Archived from the original on August 5, 2014. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  23. ^ a b c "Delta II Data Sheet". Space Launch Report. Retrieved July 27, 2014.
  24. ^ Dr. Marc D. Rayman (2007-07-15). "DAWN Journal". JPL NASA. Retrieved 2008-09-06.
  25. ^ a b "Delta II Payload Planner's Guide 2007" (PDF). ULA. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  26. ^ Forsyth, Kevin S. (2007-08-10). "Vehicle Description and Designations". History of the Delta Launch Vehicle. Retrieved 2008-03-15.
  27. ^ "Expendable Launch Vehicle Status Report". NASA. June 6, 2007.
  28. ^ "Swift Launch Pad Activities". 2004-11-18.
  29. ^ "NASA Selects Launch Services Contract For Three Missions". MarketWatch. 16 July 2012. Archived from the original on 29 January 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  30. ^ "NASA Selects Launch Services for ICESat-2 Mission". NASA Kennedy Space Center. 22 February 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  31. ^ Berger, Brian (2008-06-30). "Delta 2 Rockets to Remain Competitive Until 2015". Space News.
  32. ^
  33. ^ Ray, Justin (8 April 2015). "What to do with the final Delta 2 rocket?". Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  34. ^ "Space Junk Survivor". 3 March 2017. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  35. ^ Long, Tony (22 January 1997). "Jan. 22, 1997: Heads Up, Lottie! It's Space Junk!". Retrieved 2 January 2018.

External links

Media related to Delta II at Wikimedia Commons

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