Spaceflight Now: Delta 3 Launch Report

The Delta 3 rocket
Posted: August 21, 2000

  Delta 3
A Boeing Delta 3 launches from Cape Canaveral. Photo: Boeing
The Boeing Delta 3 is the newest, largest and most powerful version of the highly reliable Delta family of expendable launch vehicles that have evolved continually over more than three decades to meet customers' needs.

Building on the success of its space transportation business, Boeing developed the Delta 3 with its own funds. As of March 1, 2000, Delta 3 total backlog through 2002 was 18 launches, including 11 for Hughes Space and Communications International, Inc., five for Space Systems/Loral, and two for Alcatel Space (SkyBridge). First launch was in August 1998.

Delta 3 provides a geosynchronous transfer orbit capability of 8,400 pounds (3,800 kilograms), twice the payload of the workhorse Delta 2. The expanded capacity of Delta 3 meets growing lift requirements for a wide range of missions.

Notable features of the Delta 3 include a new cryogenically-propelled single-engine upper stage, bigger and more powerful strap-on solid rocket motors than the Delta 2 and a larger composite fairing to house bigger payloads. In response to industry requirements Boeing has developed the capability to enclose payloads in the fairing prior to transport to the launch pad for launch vehicle integration.

Both Delta 2 and Delta 3 use the same Boeing-built booster engine, as well as similar avionics systems, launch operations infrastructure and liquid oxygen tanks to minimize cost and maximize flexibility.

The Delta 3 first stage is powered by a Boeing RS-27A main engine and two vernier engines to control roll during main engine burn and attitude control between main engine cutoff and second-stage separation. The diameter of the booster fuel tank was increased from the Delta IIs to reduce length and improve control margins.

Delta 3 engineering, manufacturing and program management are led by Boeing Expendable Launch Systems based in Huntington Beach, with final assembly in Pueblo, Colo. The Delta launch team at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. handles launch coordination and operations. Boeing manufactures the Delta 3 main engine, the RS-27A, in Canoga Park, Calif.

Delta 3
The first Boeing Delta 3 sits atop pad 17B at Cape Canaveral. Photo: Boeing
Nine Alliant Techsystems-built strap-on solid rocket motors augment first-stage performance and are directly evolved from the Delta 2s proven graphite epoxy motors, but provide 25 percent more thrust. Three of the new, larger-diameter strap-ons are equipped with thrust vector control to further improve vehicle maneuverability and control.

The Delta 3 second-stage cryogenic Pratt & Whitney RLB10-2 engine is derived from the RL10 engine in use for more than three decades. Cryogenic fuels produce more energy, allowing lift of heavier payloads. The RLB10-2 also incorporates a larger exit cone for increased specific impulse and payload capability. The engine relies heavily on flight-proven RL-10 engine components, with operability improvements for increased reliability.

The composite fairing is 13 feet (4 meters) in diameter, enlarged from Delta 2s 10-foot (3-meter) composite fairing. It provides contamination control and protects the satellite from aerodynamic, acoustic and thermal environments through launch and ascent phases of flight.

Delta 3 incorporates the L3 communications Redundant Inertial Flight Control Assembly (RIFCA) avionics system flight-proven on Delta 2. The RIFCA uses ring laser gyros and accelerometers to provide redundant three-axis attitude and velocity data. Flight software includes the standard flight program and a mission constants database specifically designed to meet the customer's requirements.

The Delta 3 is launched from Space Launch Complex 17B (SLC-17B) at Cape Canaveral Air Station, Fla. Workers modified the white room platform locations (part of the 10-story mobile service tower used to protect the vehicle during processing), added a ground liquid hydrogen propellant tank and increased the overhead crane capability for Delta 3.

The solid rocket motor storage area, Delta checkout facility and high pressure test facility at Cape Canaveral also were modified to assemble and check out the Delta 3. The site is capable of processing and launching both Delta 2 or Delta 3 vehicles.

As a commercial launch provider, Boeing acts as the customer's agent in interfacing with government agencies for launches. The company has agreements with the U.S. Air Force and NASA for use of government-owned launch pads at Cape Canaveral.

Major subcontractors

  • Alliant Techsystems, Inc., Magna, Utah, first-stage strap-on solid propellant rocket motors
  • Pratt & Whitney, West Palm Beach, Fla., the RL10B-2 cryogenic upper-stage engine
  • Mitsubishi Heavy Industries of Nagoya, Japan, four-meter fuel tanks
  • L3 communications, Teterboro, N.J., Redundant Inertial Flight Control Assembly (RIFCA) avionics system

Flight Data File
Vehicle: Delta 3 (8930)
Payload: DM-F3
Launch date: August 23, 2000
Launch window: 1100-1500 GMT (7:00-11:00 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-17B, Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Pre-launch briefing
Mission preview - Read our story for a complete look at the Delta 3's crucial test launch.

Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Rocket diagram - Illustration shows the various components of the Delta 3.

Payload simulator - Description of the satellite mockup to be launched by Delta 3 and its research mission.

Orbit trace - A map shows the launch track for the mission.