The United Launch Alliance’s final Delta 2 rocket is now on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida, a monument to an industrial horse that helped build the GPS navigation satellite fleet and enabled a new era of Mars exploration.
The 155th and final flight of a Delta 2 rocket launched on 15 September 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with NASA’s ICESat 2 satellite to measure changes in the earth’s land and sea ice.
The launch added an exclamation point to a series of 100 successful Delta 2 missions from 1997 to 2018. ULA had hardware for another Delta 2 rocket, but the company did not sell the launch vehicle. Instead, ULA donated Delta 2 to become the newest attraction in Rocket Garden at the KSC Visitor Complex.
“Thank you United Launch Alliance for making this wonderful contribution,” said Therrin Protze, CEO of Visitor Complex, during a grand opening ceremony on March 23. “This grant is timely when more people visit to learn more about space.”
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Delta 2, with its recognizable blue color scheme, joins the Juno 1, Juno 2, Mercury-Redstone, Mercury-Atlas, Atlas-Agena, Thor-Delta and Gemini-Titan 2 vehicles in Rocket Garden. A Saturn 1B rocket appears nearby on the page.
Delta 2 is the second largest rocket on display in Rocket Garden, surpassed only by Saturn 1B.
“This is a monumental occasion as the legacy of Delta 2 will be preserved here for years to come, taking its place among the iconic giants here at Rocket Garden,” said Ron Fortson, ULA’s director and general manager of launch operations. “This is the final Delta 2. Since it will not be launched, we could not imagine a better place for it to be than here to be preserved in this suitable place with all these other iconic rockets.”
Delta 2’s basic design traces the origins of Thor’s medium-range ballistic missile in the late 1950s. Engineers maintained the Thor missile by adding a series of more capable upper stages, expanding the size of the fuel tanks, and installing attached solid rocket amplifiers to orbit heavier satellites.
Thor developed into a reliable satellite launcher culminating in the Delta 2 rocket, which debuted in 1989 and lifted 48 GPS navigation satellites, Mars rovers, interplanetary probes and many military and communications payloads in his nearly 30-year career.
Delta 2 shown in Rocket Garden is 128 meters (39 meters) high, topped by a 10 meter diameter (3 meter) payload. Most of the rocket was built as an airworthy firearm, with the exception of three fuel-free fixed rocket amplifiers mounted around the base of the first stage.
The payload cladding is painted shark teeth, a sign that is raked back to Delta 2 launches with GPS navigation satellites. These rockets also carried the shark teeth, an air defense tradition dating back to the group “Flying Tigers” of volunteer pilots who fought against Japan in China during World War II.
Delta 2 rockets launched with three, four or nine solid rocket boosters attached to assist the first-stage Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-27A main engine, which consumed petroleum and liquid oxygen propellants during the first four and a half minutes of flight.
Another step powered by an AJ10-118K engine powered by a storable fuel mix known as the Aerozine 50 completed the job of placing payloads in orbit. On many missions, Delta 2 flew a third stage with solid fuel to propel spacecraft in higher orbits or towards interplanetary destinations.
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“Delta 2 has been a workhorse for NASA throughout its career,” said Bob Cabana, director of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “We have sent probes across our entire solar system with Delta 2, to the planets, to the sun and missions here to planet Earth, making the Earth a better place, all because of that rocket.”
The Delta 2 rocket exhibit is the first major addition to the Visitor Complex since the shuttle Atlantis screen opened in 2013.
“When Atlantis moved into the Atlantis facility, it was a little heartbreaking for me to see it,” said Cabana, a former astronaut. “It’s a real rocket behind us, it could have flown in space, but instead – just like Atlantis – it’s on its second career right now. It is on a mission to inspire future generations. ”
Of the 155 Delta 2 missions, 153 were successful. Delta 2 rockets raised satellites to predict the weather, monitor the Earth’s changing climate and explore the moon, Mars, mercury, comets and asteroids.
NASA’s Mars Pathfinder mission, which carried the first red planet rover, took off from Cape Canaveral on a Delta 2 rocket in 1996. The Spirit and Opportunity rovers were fired at Mars on Delta 2 rockets in 2003, followed by The Phoenix lander in 2007, which became the first spacecraft to hit the Mars plains.
NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey orbiters were also launched on Delta 2 rockets in 1996 and 2001. Mars Odyssey still operates today, making it the longest-lived Mars mission in history.
A Delta 2 rocket launched NASA’s Stardust spacecraft in 1999 to collect dust particles from comet Wild 2, and another Delta 2 mission in 2005 distributed NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft to release a copper projectile that slammed into Comet Temple 1, and collected data on the comet’s internal structure composition.
The latest Delta 2 launch from Cape Canaveral began on September 8, 2011 with NASA’s GRAIL mission, a pair of probes to measure the moon’s gravitational field. Five more Delta 2s were lifted from Vandenberg, a spaceport suitable for launches into polar orbit, which is often used by Earth observation satellites.
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“The missions have been amazing and varied: GPS that has changed our lives, weather satellites, mobile satellite phones, space telescopes, trips to the moon, Mars and Mercury, comets and asteroids, and countless spacecraft studying our beloved Mother Earth,” said Tim Dunn, a launch director at NASA’s Launch Services Program.
“The failing Delta 2 team that got the virtues of this rocket and the apt nickname, the workhorse,” said Dunn. NASA has a fantastic history of the Delta 2 rocket. Of the 155 total Delta 2 missions, NASA had 54 of them, and every single one of them was successful. ”
In addition to its missions, Delta 2 rockets launched satellites to launch full-scale deployments of the U.S. military’s Global Positioning System. The first Delta 2 launch on Valentine’s Day in 1989 delivered the first of 48 GPS satellites Delta 2 rockets would carry in orbit.
The military utility of the GPS network was demonstrated in the 1991 Gulf War, the first conflict using satellite navigation with spacecraft launched on Delta 2 missions.
“The Gulf War was in many ways considered the first space war,” Brig said. General Stephen Purdy, commander of the 45th Space Wing and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. “It was there that the elements of the air force really began to come into their own. You could say that much of the foundation was laid then for the creation of the Space Force. ”
Billions of civilians around the world now use GPS navigation signals to guide their travels by land, sea and air.
“If you have GPS, you have Delta 2 to thank for the capabilities we have in that arena,” Fortson said.
Delta 2 rockets also launched a number of satellites for Iridium and Globalstar, pioneering companies in the mobile telecommunications industry.
“From national security to space exploration, Delta 2 has changed what we know about the world we live in today, and it has affected our entire lives,” Fortson said.
Engineers who worked on the Delta 2 program are now working on ULA’s other rockets, such as the Atlas 5, Delta 4 and the next generation Vulcan Centaur. Others have moved on to other space companies.
“All of these groups of engineers, analysts, and technicians benefited from this rocket’s unique record of success and consistent performance,” said Dunn. “I think the success of this rocket has left a huge ripple effect on the launch systems we have today.”
More photos of the Delta 2 rocket show are posted below.
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