Delta 2 among potential customers

By Janene Scully / Associate Editor /

NASA/Contributed Workers stack the Delta 2 rocket at Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in July for what once was expected to be the final blastoff for that rocket.

NASA has agreed to consider awarding future missions to the Delta 2 rocket, possibly extending the program’s life beyond what has been touted as the final blastoff for the workhorse rocket later this month at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The space agency late last week announced the addition of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 2 rocket to the NASA Launch Services (NLS) 2 contract.

“We are extremely pleased NASA has added the reliable Delta 2 to the NLS 2 contract and look forward to continuing the legacy of the program,” said Michael Gass, ULA’s president and CEO.

NASA employed the contract’s “on-ramp provision,” a small window that allowed the space agency to include additional rockets beyond those initially covered by the pact.

The modification allows United Launch Alliance to offer as many as five Delta 2 rockets.

ULA officials say the company has five Delta 2 rockets that have been manufactured but haven’t been purchased to carry a satellite into orbit.

“More than likely, those launches will be at Vandenberg,” said ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye.

At Vandenberg, ULA has 365 employees who work on the firm’s Delta 2, Delta 4 and Atlas 5 rockets.

NASA’s manifest includes a number of scientific satellites that would require the type of orbits that can be achieved by launching from Vandenberg.

The space agency doles out missions through NLS as “multiple award, indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity” contracts with ordering periods through June 2020. The “on-ramp” provision provides an annual chance  for new launch service providers to compete for future missions, and allows existing launch service providers to introduce launch vehicles not currently on their NLS 2 contracts.

Without this action, the late October launch of the Delta 2 rocket with the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) mission for NASA was expected to be the final for that rocket, which as flown 150 times, including 40 from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg.

When the NLS 2 contract was first issued, NASA officials said it provided them the ability to order up to 70 launch services missions, with a maximum cumulative value of $15 billion spanning 10 years.

In the original NLS 2, four firm’s rockets were picked to compete for missions: Lockheed Martin Space Systems Company of Denver; Orbital Sciences Corporation of Dulles, Va.; Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, and United Launch Services, LLC of Littleton, Colo.

The inclusion enabled Delta 2 rockets to compete with SpaceX’s Falcon, Lockheed Martin’s Athena and Orbital’s Taurus rockets for the business to carry medium-sized satellites to orbit.

The Delta 2 program has a rich heritage of launching an assortment of scientific, military and commercial satellites from Vandenberg. Overall, the vehicle has recorded 95 consecutive successful missions over the past decade.

“This is a tribute to our dedicated ULA employees, our supplier teammates and our NASA Launch Services Program customer who ensure mission success is the focus of each and every launch,” Gass said.

Credit: Lompoc Record

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