After nearly three years on a Vandenberg launch pad, the latest product of the USAF – Boeing EELV partnership has launched the first of the Delta 4 missions from the west coast, carrying the NROL-22 satellite from USAF Vandenberg (4:33am UK time).
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‘This first Delta IV launch from Vandenberg is an important achievement for Boeing and our NRO and Air Force customers,’ said Dan Collins, vice president of Boeing Launch Systems.
‘Today we successfully validated launching the Delta IV from SLC-6, providing the Air Force and the nation with the first operational West Coast launch site for the EELV program. With this launch, the Delta team has fulfilled all the EELV requirements outlined by the Air Force.
‘We have a full family of launch vehicles, including a flight-proven, heavy-lift vehicle, a domestically produced first stage engine and now fully operational launch sites on both coasts.’
The medium-lift Delta 4, consisting of two liquid hydrogen / oxygen stages, will launch a classified satellite, operated by the National Reconnaissance Office. The lower first stage is flanked by two 60-inch diameter strap-on graphite epoxy motors, similar to the reusable Space Shuttle boosters.
The first stage is powered by the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS‑68 engine. The Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10B‑2 engine, with the extendible nozzle, provides the thrust to the second stage.
The launch of NROL‑22 marks a maturing of the partnership forged between Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, the Office of Space Launch (OSL), the NRO, and the Air Forceâ€™s EELV program.
‘The NRO develops and operates unique and innovative space reconnaissance systems and conducts intelligence-related activities essential for U.S. national security,’ noted the Boeing mission release. ‘NRO assets can warn of potential trouble spots around the world, monitor arms control agreements, help plan military operations, and monitor natural disasters and other environmental issues.’
Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6), located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., is the West Coast launch site for the Boeing Delta IV family of launch vehicles. Selected for the Delta IV program in 1995, the 132-acre complex has been reconstructed to support launch operations on behalf of the U.S. Air Force Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
Original construction of SLC-6 began in the 1960s to support the Air Force’s Manned Orbital Laboratory program, a space laboratory module attached to a modified Gemini B capsule to be launched aboard a Titan III booster. The program was later cancelled in 1969 and SLC-6 was abandoned for nearly a decade.
In 1979, the Air Force and NASA selected SLC-6 to support Air Force missions aboard the space shuttle, and the facility underwent a renovation to support shuttle launches. After completion of the work, the Space Shuttle Enterprise stood at SLC-6 fully stacked with its external tank and solid rocket boosters in an exercise to test the pad’s readiness for shuttle missions. Following the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, plans to launch the shuttle from Vandenberg were cancelled.
The site was later used for some launches of the Athena booster in the 1990s, prior to being converted to its present condition to support Delta IV launches.
SLC-6 was designed to accommodate the Medium, Medium+ and Heavy configurations of the Delta IV. From SLC-6, Boeing can launch satellite payloads to high inclination, polar and Sun-synchronous orbits. The new facility enables Delta IV rockets to be processed and launched with increased efficiency.
The next Delta IV launch from Vandenberg is planned for late 2006 aboard a Delta IV Medium vehicle that will fly a mission for the Air Force Defense Meteorological Satellite Program, DMSP-17.