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ULA concludes six decades of Delta rocket flights with the final Delta Heavy 4 mission – Spaceflight Now

ULA concludes six decades of Delta rocket flights with the final Delta Heavy 4 mission – Spaceflight Now
A ULA Delta 4 Heavy rocket lifts off from Space Launch Complex 37 on Tuesday, April 9, 2024. This was the 16th and final launch of the Delta 4 Heavy rocket. Image: Adam Bernstein/Space Flight Now

The second time was the charm for the Delta Rocket family finale. After a problem with a gaseous nitrogen pipeline beyond the control of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) caused a scrub on March 28, a second launch attempt on April 9 proved successful.

A Delta IV Heavy rocket was launched from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 12:53 p.m. EDT (1653 UTC). “The most metallic rocket ever,” as ULA President and CEO Torey Bruno described it, blasted away from the pad at the beginning of the launch window, carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO).

In the final four minutes before the final takeoff, two problems arose, according to Bruno. The first was a violation of ground wind limits, which led to the initial stop. This was coupled with a problem that arose with the gas nitrogen pump.

The pipeline system that services active launch pads at both Kennedy Space Center as well as at CCSFS is owned by NASA and operated by the prime contractor, Air Liquide.

In response to Spaceflight Now's questions regarding the extent of the problem and the measures being taken to resolve it, Air Liquide provided the following statement:

Air Liquide is committed to providing a safe and reliable supply of industrial gases to the U.S. space industry, as it has done successfully for more than 60 years. Air Liquide confirms that a pump failure occurred on March 28 at its nitrogen plant that supplies NASA's Space Launch System (SLS). Air Liquide has worked diligently with NASA to understand the circumstances and resolve the situation, and is prepared on site to support the scheduled launch of the Delta IV Heavy rocket.

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In a follow-up with NASA regarding the steps taken, the agency said that it was “aware that Air Liquide has taken measures to resolve pump problems at its nitrogen plant,” adding, “We appreciate their efforts in this matter.”

“As always, NASA Kennedy continues to monitor the pipeline and other infrastructure for key launch goods on Kennedy property and will take any further steps that may be necessary to ensure the successful delivery of these important resources,” NASA said in a statement.

The 45th Weather Squadron also expected much better launch conditions with this second run. The launch day forecast showed a 90 percent chance of suitable weather during the launch window with possible cumulonimbus clouds as the only observation.

NRO missile

The NROL-70 mission will carry a National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spacecraft into orbit. Because it is a secret payload, little is known about the satellite and its capabilities.

During a pre-launch press conference in late March, Dr. Chris Scoles, director of the NRO, noted that the NROL-70 payload would help bolster needed capabilities on the ground without going into detail.

“It will provide a fantastic capability that a lot of people and organizations need, obviously decision-makers, warfighters and others, to be able to see what's happening on the ground,” Scoles said.

Of the 16 missions flown by the Delta IV Heavy missile, 12 were in support of NRO missions. Bruno quipped during the press conference that he was “your missile,” referring to Scalise.

“This will be our 16th flight. All but four of these were designated for NRO because of their unique capabilities,” Bruno said. “So, we are looking forward to a successful mission and a great retirement of an amazing vehicle.”

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The three-core vehicle will be replaced in capabilities by ULA's Vulcan rocket. It made its first certification mission with the launch of Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander in January, and is preparing to fly a second certification mission aboard Sierra Space's Dream Chaser spaceplane.

in Answer In response to reports that they might follow a different path to certification, either with a different payload or with just one mission, Bruno criticized that, noting that ULA “did not request that our certification plan be modified from two flights to one” and that they “have no intention of doing so.” “With that.”

Over five years of National Security Space Launch (NSSL) requests as part of the second phase of awards, 26 of 48 total missions were awarded to ULA, with 25 destined for flights with Vulcan. The first mission of the new launch vehicle will be USSF-106. Of the nine awarded NRO missions, seven will be launched using Vulcan.

The final stage of the Delta rocket family also comes as ULA prepares to launch its first crew of astronauts into low Earth orbit with the upcoming Boeing Starliner Crew flight test. This spacecraft is preparing to lift off to ULA's other launch pad at Space Launch Complex 41 (SLC-41) next week.