Delta II


Delta II was an expendable launch system, originally designed and built by McDonnell Douglas, and sometimes known as the Thorad Delta 1. Delta II was part of the Delta rocket family and entered service in 1989. Delta II vehicles included the Delta 6000, and the two later Delta 7000 variants ("Light" and "Heavy"). The rocket flew its final mission ICESat-2 on 15 September 2018, earning the launch vehicle a streak of 100 successful missions in a row, with the last failure being GPS IIR-1 in 1997.[5]

Delta II
A Delta II rocket launches from Cape Canaveral carrying the Dawn spacecraft.
FunctionLaunch vehicle
ManufacturerUnited Launch Alliance
Country of originUnited States
Cost per launchUS$51 million in 1987 (7920-10 model) [1] US$137 million in 2018 before retirement [2]
Height38.9 m (128 ft)[3]
Diameter2.44 m (8 ft 0 in)
Mass152,000–286,000 kg (335,000–631,000 lb)[3]
Payload to low Earth orbit
Mass2,800–6,140 kg (6,170–13,540 lb)[3]
Payload to geostationary transfer orbit
Mass1,140–2,190 kg (2,510–4,830 lb)[3]
Payload to heliocentric orbit
Mass806–1,519 kg (1,777–3,349 lb)[3]
Launch history
Launch sitesCape Canaveral, SLC-17
Vandenberg Air Force Base, SLC-2W
Total launches155
Delta 6000: 17
Delta 7000: 132
Delta 7000H: 6
Delta 6000: 17
Delta 7000: 130
Delta 7000H: 6
Failure(s)1 (Delta 7000)
Partial failure(s)1 (Delta 7000)
First flight
Last flight
  • Delta 6000: 24 July 1992 (Geotail)
  • Delta 7000: 15 September 2018 (ICESat-2)
  • Delta 7000H: 10 September 2011 (GRAIL)
Boosters (6000 Series) – Castor 4A
No. boosters9
Powered bySolid
Maximum thrust478 kN (107,000 lbf)
Specific impulse266 s (2.61 km/s)
Burn time56 seconds
Boosters (7000 Series) – GEM 40
No. boosters3, 4, or 9
Powered bySolid
Maximum thrust492.9 kN (110,800 lbf)
Specific impulse274 s (2.69 km/s)
Burn time64 seconds
Boosters (7000 Heavy) – GEM 46
No. boosters9
Powered bySolid
Maximum thrust628.3 kN (141,200 lbf)
Specific impulse278 s (2.73 km/s)
Burn time76 seconds or 178.03 seconds after lift off
First stage – Thor/Delta XLT(-C)
Powered by1 RS-27 (6000 series) or RS-27A (7000 series) [4]
Maximum thrust1,054 kN (237,000 lbf)
Specific impulse302 s (2.96 km/s)
Burn time260.5 seconds
PropellantRP-1 / LOX
Second stage – Delta K
Powered by1 AJ10-118K
Maximum thrust43.6 kN (9,800 lbf)
Specific impulse319 s (3.13 km/s)
Burn time431 seconds
PropellantN2O4 / Aerozine 50
Third stage – PAM-D (optional)
Powered byStar 48B
Maximum thrust66 kN (15,000 lbf)
Specific impulse286 s (2.80 km/s)
Burn time87 seconds

History Edit

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.[6] The Challenger disaster of 1986 and the subsequent halt of Shuttle operations changed this policy, and President Ronald Reagan announced in December 1986 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.[7]

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 II. These were intended to launch a series of Global Positioning System (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 II in 1990 for the launch of three Earth-observing satellites.[8][9] The first Delta II launch occurred on 14 February 1989, with a Delta 6925 boosting the first GPS Block II satellite (USA-35) from Launch Complex 17A (SLC-17A) at Cape Canaveral into a 20,000 km (12,000 mi) high medium Earth orbit.[10]

The first Delta II 7000-series flew on November 26, 1990, replacing the RS-27 engine of the 6000-series with the more powerful RS-27A engine. 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 with the last launch being on July 24.[11]

McDonnell Douglas began Delta III development in the mid-1990s as increasing satellite mass required more powerful launch vehicles.[8] 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, 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 the Delta III program.[12] The upgraded boosters would still find use on the Delta II, leading to the Delta II Heavy.

On 28 March 2003, the Air Force Space Command began the process of 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 would transfer all the Delta II facilities and infrastructure to NASA to support the launch of the Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) in 2011.[13]

On 14 December 2006, with the launch of USA-193, was the first launch of the Delta II operated by United Launch Alliance.[14]

The last GPS launch aboard a Delta II, and the final launch from SLC-17A at Cape Canaveral 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 Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.[15]

On 16 July 2012, NASA selected the Delta II to support the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO-2), Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP), and Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS-1 - NOAA-20) missions. This marked the final purchase of Delta II. OCO-2 was launched on 2 July 2014, Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) was launched on 31 January 2015, and JPSS-1 was launched on 18 November 2017. All three of these launches were placed into orbit from SLC-2 at Vandenberg.[16]

The Delta II family launched 155 times. Its only unsuccessful launches were 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 geosynchronous orbit and operated for 10 years.[17] The GPS IIR-1 was a total loss as the Delta II exploded 13 seconds after launch. The explosion occurred when a damaged solid rocket booster casing ruptured and triggered the vehicle's flight termination system.[18] No one was injured, and the launch pad itself was not seriously impacted, though several cars were destroyed and a few buildings were damaged.[19]

In 2007, Delta II completed its 75th consecutive successful launch, surpassing the 74 consecutive successful launches of the Ariane 4.[20][21] With the launch of ICESat-2 in 2018, Delta II reached 100 consecutive successful launches.

While all completed Delta II rockets have launched, many flight-qualified spare parts remain. These spare parts were assembled to create a nearly-complete Delta II, for exhibition in its 7420-3 configuration. The rocket is displayed vertically at the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex, and bears its popular "shark teeth" livery on its fairing, which was painted on past Delta II rockets for the GPS launches.[22]

Vehicle description Edit

Delta II 7425 diagram
A Delta-K stage

The first stage of the Delta II was propelled by a Rocketdyne RS-27 main engine burning RP-1 and liquid oxygen. This stage was technically referred to as the "Extra-Extended Long Tank Thor", a derivative of the Thor ballistic missile [23] as were all Delta rockets until the Delta IV. The RS-27 used on the 6000-series Delta II produced 915 kN (206,000 lbf),[24] while the upgraded RS-27A used by the 7000-series produced 1,054 kN (237,000 lbf).[25] The stage was 26 meters (85 ft) long and 2.4 meters (7.9 ft) wide, weighted over 100 tonnes (220,000 lb) when fueled, and burned for 260 seconds.[26] In addition, two LR101-NA-11 vernier engines provided guidance for the first stage.

For additional thrust during launch, the Delta II used solid boosters. For the 6000-series, Delta II used Castor 4A boosters, while the 7000-series used Graphite-Epoxy Motors manufactured by ATK. The vehicle could be flown with three, four, or, most commonly, nine boosters. When three or four boosters were used, all ignited on the ground at launch, while models that used nine boosters would ignite six on the ground, then the remaining three in flight after the burnout and jettison of the first six.[26]

The second stage of Delta II was 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 had to occur within approximately 37 days or the stage would have to be refurbished or replaced.[27] This stage also contained a combined inertial platform and guidance system that controlled all flight events. The Delta-K stage was 6 meters (20 ft) long and 2.4 meters (7.9 ft) wide, containing up to 6 tonnes (13,000 lb) of propellant, and burned for up to 430 seconds.[26]

For low Earth orbit, Delta II was 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.[28] 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.[28]

Naming system Edit

The Delta II family used a four-digit system to generate its technical names:[29]

  • The first digit was either 6 or 7, denoting the 6000- or 7000-series Delta.
  • The second digit indicated the number of boosters. Most Delta II rockets flew with 9 boosters, but some flew with 3 or 4.
  • The third digit was always 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 denoted the third stage. 0 denoted no third stage, 5 indicated a Payload Assist Module (PAM) stage with Star 48B solid motor, and 6 indicated 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.[30]
  • Numbers and letters following those indicate the type of fairing. -9.5 means that the vehicle had a 9.5 ft (2.9 m) diameter fairing, -10 means a metallic 10 ft (3.0 m) diameter fairing, -10C means a composite 10 ft (3.0 m) diameter fairing, and -10L indicates a lengthened 10 ft (3.0 m) diameter composite fairing. In some early Delta II flights, an 8-foot diameter fairing (from older Delta rockets) was flown, and those vehicles had a -8 designation.

For example, a Delta 7925H-10L used an RS-27A, nine GEM-46 boosters, a PAM third stage, and a lengthened 10 ft (3.0 m) diameter fairing. A Delta 6320–9.5 is a two-stage vehicle with an RS-27 first stage engine, three Castor 4A boosters, a 9.5 ft (2.9 m) diameter fairing, and no third stage.

Launch profile Edit

Launch vehicle build-up
A Delta II launch vehicle was assembled vertically on the launch pad. Assembly started by hoisting the first stage into position. The solid rocket boosters were then hoisted into position and mated with the first stage. Launch vehicle build-up then continued with the second stage being hoisted atop the first stage.[31]
It took approximately 20 minutes to load the first stage with 37,900 L (10,000 U.S. gal) of fuel.[32]
At T-45 minutes, fueling completion was confirmed. At T-20 minutes, the FTS pyros were armed. At T-20 minutes and T-4 minutes, two built in holds occurred. During these holds, final launch checkouts were performed. At T-11 seconds SRB igniters were armed. Ignition of the main engine was at T-0.4 seconds. The ascent profile varies between missions.
SRB staging
If 9 solid rocket boosters were used, only six were ignited at launch. After about a minute, once the first six were depleted, three air-start motors would ignite for another minute and the ground-start motors would separate.[33] The air-start motors had nozzles optimized for high-altitude as they operated mostly in a near-vacuum during the flight.
If only 3 or 4 boosters were used, all were ignited on the ground and jettisoned at the same time.

Delta II launches Edit

Delta II lifting off with MER-A on 10 June 2003.
Delta II Heavy (7925H-9.5) lifting off from pad 17-B carrying MER-B.

Notable payloads Edit



The last Delta II launch was the ICESat-2 satellite in September 2018.[30][34][35]

In 2008, ULA indicated that it had "around half a dozen" unsold Delta II rockets on hand,[36] 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 launch vehicle.[37] The final Delta II rocket is located at the Kennedy Space Center rocket garden.[38]

Comparable rockets Edit

Delta rocket evolution

Space debris Edit

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 22 January 1997 when she was hit in the shoulder by a 15-centimeter (6 in) piece of blackened metallic material. U.S. Space Command confirmed that a used Delta II rocket from the April 1996 launch of 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.[39][40]

Delta rockets have been involved in multiple fragmentation events as they were routinely left in orbit with enough fuel to explode. A large amount of current "space junk" Is Delta rocket debris.[41]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ "Delta II 7920H-10". Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 1 July 2014.
  2. ^ "The Annual Compendium of Commercial Space Transportation: 2018" (PDF). Federal Aviation Administration's Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Bryce Space and Technology. January 2018.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Delta II Data Sheet". Space Launch Report. Retrieved 9 March 2021.
  4. ^ "Boeing: Integrated Defense Systems - Delta - Delta II Launch Vehicle Family". Archived from the original on 3 November 2006. Retrieved 3 November 2006.
  5. ^ Kyle, Ed. "Delta II Data Sheet". Archived from the original on 28 July 2014. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  6. ^ Dawson, Virginia (2004). Taming Liquid Hydrogen (PDF). p. 233. Archived (PDF) from the original on 29 September 2006. Retrieved 12 July 2017.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  7. ^ "Reagan Orders NASA To Halt Launch of Commercial Payloads". Associated Press News. 16 August 1986. Archived from the original on 6 March 2014. Retrieved 21 March 2013.
  8. ^ 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. Archived (PDF) from the original on 25 December 2017. Retrieved 12 July 2017.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  9. ^ "Archives copy" (PDF). Los Angeles Air Force Base. Archived from the original (PDF) on 14 April 2016.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  10. ^ McDowell, Jonathan. "Launch Log". Jonathan's Space Report. Archived from the original on 13 November 2009. Retrieved 10 July 2012.
  11. ^ "ULA Delta II successfully lofts OCO-2 to orbit". 2 July 2014. Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 26 July 2014.
  12. ^ "Delta III Data Sheet". Space Launch Report. Archived from the original on 2 November 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  13. ^ Cleary, Mark. "DELTA II & III SPACE OPERATIONS AT CAPE CANAVERAL 1989–2009" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 May 2015. Retrieved 18 November 2017.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  14. ^ "United Launch Alliance Joint Venture Completes First Launch". Retrieved 2 June 2020.
  15. ^ "Delta II". Archived from the original on 17 November 2017. Retrieved 18 November 2017.
  16. ^ "NASA Selects Launch Services Contract for Three Missions". NASA. 16 July 2012. Archived from the original on 10 May 2013. Retrieved 7 June 2013.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  17. ^ Krebs, Gunter Dirk. "Koreasat 1, 2 (Mugungwha 1, 2) / Europe*Star B". Archived from the original on 17 September 2010. Retrieved 7 October 2010.
  18. ^ "Science & Health Archives". Gizmodo Australia. Archived from the original on 12 February 2009. Retrieved 11 March 2023.
  19. ^ "Unmanned rocket explodes after liftoff". 17 January 1997. Archived from the original on 23 April 2009. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  20. ^ "DigitalGlobe Successfully Launches Worldview-1". DigitalGlobe. Archived from the original on 2 March 2009. Retrieved 21 September 2007.
  21. ^ "Ariane 5's impressive 75 in-a-row launch record". SpaceDaily. Archived from the original on 1 December 2017. Retrieved 19 November 2017.
  22. ^ "Leftover Delta 2 rocket to go on display at Kennedy Space Center". Spaceflight Now. Archived from the original on 29 January 2019. Retrieved 17 September 2018.
  23. ^ "Space Launch Report". Archived from the original on 18 April 2012. Retrieved 5 February 2013.
  24. ^ "RS-27". Astronautix. Archived from the original on 11 October 2011. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  25. ^ "RS-27A". Archived from the original on 5 August 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  26. ^ a b c "Delta II Data Sheet". Space Launch Report. Archived from the original on 28 July 2014. Retrieved 27 July 2014.
  27. ^ Dr. Marc D. Rayman (15 July 2007). "DAWN Journal". JPL NASA. Archived from the original on 12 October 2008. Retrieved 6 September 2008.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  28. ^ a b "Delta II Payload Planner's Guide 2007" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 19 September 2011. Retrieved 24 July 2014.
  29. ^ Forsyth, Kevin S. (10 August 2007). "Vehicle Description and Designations". History of the Delta Launch Vehicle. Archived from the original on 8 August 2011. Retrieved 15 March 2008.
  30. ^ a b Graham, William (2 July 2014). "ULA Delta II successfully lofts OCO-2 to orbit". Archived from the original on 14 July 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2014.
  31. ^ "Expendable Launch Vehicle Status Report". NASA. 6 June 2007. Archived from the original on 8 June 2007. Retrieved 8 June 2007.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  32. ^ "Swift Launch Pad Activities". 18 November 2004. Archived from the original on 8 August 2007. Retrieved 20 December 2007.   This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  33. ^ Squyres, Steve (2005). Roving Mars: Spirit, Opportunity, and the Exploration of the Red Planet. Hachette Books. ISBN 9781401308513.
  34. ^ "NASA Selects Launch Services Contract For Three Missions". MarketWatch. 16 July 2012. Archived from the original on 29 January 2013. Retrieved 16 July 2012.
  35. ^ "NASA Selects Launch Services for ICESat-2 Mission". NASA Kennedy Space Center. 22 February 2013. Archived from the original on 8 July 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  36. ^ Berger, Brian (30 June 2008). "Delta 2 Rockets to Remain Competitive Until 2015". Space News. Archived from the original on 3 July 2008. Retrieved 3 July 2008.
  37. ^ Tory Bruno [@torybruno] (17 October 2017). "Less than 1. Last 2 complete DIIs are ordered, JPSS is flying next. Most of a 3rd DII's parts remain in inventory" (Tweet). Retrieved 7 August 2019 – via Twitter.
  38. ^ Robert Z. Pearlman (23 March 2021). "Last Delta II takes root in Kennedy Space Center rocket garden". Retrieved 11 March 2023.
  39. ^ "Space Junk Survivor". 3 March 2017. Archived from the original on 3 January 2018. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  40. ^ Long, Tony (22 January 1997). "January 22, 1997: Heads Up, Lottie! It's Space Junk!". Archived from the original on 2 January 2018. Retrieved 2 January 2018.
  41. ^ "Micrometeoroids and Orbital Debris (MMOD)". Retrieved 20 March 2023.

External links Edit

  Media related to Delta II at Wikimedia Commons

  • Delta II page at
  • Delta I, II und III launch data at
  • History of the Delta launch vehicle
  • Delta II Launch Weather Commit Criteria