Volume 03, Issue 4
|Integrated Defense Systems|
READY, HEAVY, GO!
Boeing’s Delta program gets set for first flight of powerful Delta IV Heavy rocket
BY BOB HOWARD AND PAULA SHAWA
Colossal in size, state-of-the art in technology and futuristic in manufacturing, the Boeing Delta IV Heavy is about to rocket its first payload into orbit. Launch is set for this fall.
The 235-foot-tall (72 meters) heavy lifter becomes the next entry in the Delta family of launch vehicles, joining the dependable Delta II and other variants of the IV. The Delta IV has a key role in the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program—assuring access to space for the nation’s most critical satellite payloads.
“This mission represents a significant milestone for the nation in that the Delta IV Heavy is the first large multi-core liquid booster launcher in the history of the U.S. space program,” said Will Trafton, vice president and general manager of Boeing Expendable Launch Systems. “From the development of an all-liquid heavy-lift vehicle, to the robust RS-68 engine, the Delta IV Heavy was designed, built and tested with all the benefits and skills from across the Boeing enterprise and our outstanding team of suppliers and subcontractors.”
The “Heavy” in Delta IV Heavy refers to its powerful lift capability: 14,000 pounds (6,400 kilograms) of cargo to geosynchronous orbit, 28,000 pounds (12,700 kg) to geotransfer orbit and 53,000 pounds (24,000 kg) to low Earth orbit. Its first flight will be an ambitious one: Deliver the payload directly to geosynchronous orbit, a spot nearly 23,000 miles above the Earth’s equator, where a spacecraft synchronizes with the Earth’s rotation in order to remain above the same spot on Earth throughout its mission life.
“Because of our first three Delta IV flights, and extensive ground testing, my team and I are highly confident the Delta IV Heavy will perform admirably on its initial flight,” explained Dan Collins, Boeing Delta Programs vice president and program manager.
The flight will begin with the ground-rattling spectacle of three Boeing Rocketdyne RS-68 engines igniting simultaneously. The first new large liquid-propellant U.S. engine since the Space Shuttle Main Engine (also built by Rocketdyne) more than 20 years ago, each RS-68 develops the maximum equivalent of just over 17 million horsepower. Even though the engine weighs one-fourth of one locomotive engine, its efficient high-pressure fuel pump alone delivers as much horsepower as 16 locomotives. Or, to put it another way, the energy released by just one RS-68 is equivalent to the output of 11 Hoover Dams. All together, they will generate close to two million pounds of thrust.
The Delta IV Heavy Demonstration mission profile requires three burns of the second-stage rocket instead of the typical two. Having the launch vehicle perform this maneuver instead of the payload will save payload propellant to ensure a longer operational life.
The extended five-hour coast period between the second and third burns will put the rocket’s second-stage hardware through its paces, stressing and verifying thermal, propulsion and power systems in the harsh environment of space.
The primary payload for this initial voyage is an instrumented demonstration satellite that is configured to simulate a typical heavy-size payload and identify ascent conditions and their effect on future similar payloads. Test results will be used to evaluate vehicle performance and payload environments for two EELV missions scheduled in 2005.
Also on board is an auxiliary payload for the Department of Defense Space Test Program. The payload, NanoSat-2, is being sponsored by the Air Force Research Laboratory. NanoSat-2 features two miniaturized satellites. Students from the University of Colorado, Boulder, built one; Arizona State University students built the second. These diminutive space flyers—just 54 and 47 pounds respectively—will demonstrate the viability of miniaturized component technology and collaborative formation flying of nano-sat-type payloads.
As impressive as the Delta IV Heavy vehicle is, equally impressive are the manufacturing and prelaunch processes developed to get it from the factory floor to the launch pad and into orbit as efficiently and quickly as possible.
The Delta IV’s Common Booster Core—used for each of the five versions of the Delta IV family—is manufactured at Boeing’s state-of-the-art factory in Decatur, Ala. Here, principles of Lean manufacturing have resulted in a streamlined production flow that maximizes efficiency and minimizes cost.
Equally state-of-the art are the East Coast and West Coast launch facilities for the Delta IV. Both sites have the capability to process rockets horizontally—away from the launch pad—to reduce on-pad time to 10 days or less. Space Launch Complex 37B in Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., from which Delta IV Heavy will make its debut, is the first U.S. launch site constructed from the ground up in the past 35 years. It features new facilities to process rockets with increased safety, efficiency and cost-effectiveness, such a laser alignment system used to mate the first and second stages of the Delta IV vehicle with precision accuracy.
And while Delta IV launchers are currently contracted to address U.S. defense needs, there are potential civil space applications as well. Most immediate could be in support of the new Vision for Space Exploration that NASA is undertaking at the direction of the White House.
“While NASA’s exploration requirements are not yet known, the Vision for Space Exploration is anchored on two key points that distinguish it from prior exploration efforts—affordability and sustainability,” said Jayne Schnaars, vice president for Boeing Launch Services.
“We believe that the Delta IV—a flight-proven new launcher with room to grow—offers real potential benefits to exploration without extensive new development for the vehicle or its launch infrastructure,” Schnaars said. “We hope to offer NASA launch options based on our existing investments in Delta IV for an early head start on exploration missions.”
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