The final Delta II rocket is being prepared for launch at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The aging launch platform’s final mission will aim to deploy NASA’s ICESat-2 satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit in mid-September.
The Delta II rocket was developed by the now defunct McDonnell Douglas. Through a series of mergers, operations of the rocket fell to Boeing and then the billion-dollar Boeing and Lockheed Martin partnership, United Launch Alliance (ULA). It was launched for the first time on February 14, 1989. Over the next thirty years, it would be launched over 150 times suffering just two failures.
Over its almost three-decade long service, The Delta II launched NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers, the Phoenix Mars Lander, and 21 GPS II-R missions that changed the way the world got around. Following an eight-launch year in 2009, the Delta II’s service has been sporadic with just seven launches in nine years. The penultimate flight of the Delta II was launched late last year deploying the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s JPSS-1 weather satellite.
In preparation of next month’s launch, ground teams at Vandenberg Air Force Base have completed the Delta II’s wet dress rehearsal. The operation involves loading super-cold liquid oxygen propellant into the rocket’s first stage. With its successful completion on Wednesday last week, ground teams will now shift their focus to installing the ICESat 2 spacecraft this week.