ULA Launch ICESat-2 Satellite Aboard Final Delta II

NASA's ICESat-2 satellite launches aboard the last United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket.
The last Delta II rocket streaks across the night’s sky with NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite aboard | Image credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The 154th and final Delta II rocket launched NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) from Vandenberg Air Force Base on Saturday. The launch concludes almost three decades of service for the United Launch Alliance rocket.

The Delta II carrying the ICESat-2 satellite lifted off from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex-2 at 13:02 UTC (06:02 local time) on Saturday, September 15, 2018. Approximately 50 minutes after liftoff, the ICESat-2 satellite was deployed. It was later confirmed that the satellite’s solar array had been extended successfully and that the satellite was operating nominally under its own power. In addition to the rocket’s primary payload, three CubeSats designated SurfSat, ELFIN-A and ELFIN-B were also all deployed successfully.

The ICESat-2 satellite carries a single payload, the Advanced Topographic Laser Altimeter System or ATLAS. According to a NASA press release, data gathered by ATLAS will be utilised to “estimate the annual height change of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to within four millimeters.” These estimates will allow climate scientists to track the impact global warming will have on these ice sheets in the coming years.

The legacy of the Delta II

The Delta II was designed and developed by McDonnell Douglas and first launched on February 14, 1989. Through a series of mergers and partnerships, the Delta II became part of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) vehicle lineup.

During its 29 years of service, the Delta II flew 154 missions suffering just one failure and one partial failure, a launch record that makes it one of the most reliable rockets ever developed. Notable missions launched aboard the Delta II include Kepler, 24 GPS satellites, Deep Space 1, Dawn, Deep Impact, and Mars Pathfinder, Spirit and Opportunity rovers.

“ULA is proud that the Delta II rocket has been a significant piece of history, launching more than 50 missions for NASA,” said Gary Wentz, the company’s vice president of Government and Commercial Programs. “I sincerely thank the entire ULA team, NASA, U.S. Air Force, and all of our partners and suppliers who have worked diligently to launch the final Delta II rocket, as well as the dedication of the teams throughout the past 29 years of the program.”

To commemorate the impact the Delta II has had on the industry, ULA plan to assemble one final Delta II from leftover parts. The rocket will be put on display at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in Florida.

Andrew Parsonson is a space enthusiast and the founder of Rocket Rundown. He has worked as a journalist and blogger for various industries for over 5 years and has a passion for both fictional and real-life space travel. Currently, Andrew is the primary writer for Rocket Rundown as we look to expand our reach and credibility.