On Thursday morning, United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Medium rocket took flight for the ultimate time. Beneath clear blue skies on the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station launch a web site in Florida, the rocket carried the GPS III satellite safely into orbit. That is the second of the Air Force’s next-technology international positioning system satellites to achieve house.
As typical, the one-core Delta IV rocket carried out its job nicely. Since 2002, this rocket (which may fly with or without small, side-mounted stable rocket boosters) has flown 29 missions. All have been profitable. However, the venerable Delta rocket will fly no more. Put merely, in at present’s market—through which United Launch Alliance should compete with SpaceX for nationwide safety launches and with many different suppliers for business missions—the Delta-IV Medium cannot compete.
A 2017 report by the US Government Accountability Office put the per-unit price of a single-core Delta launch at $164 million. That is almost 3 times the worth of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which cannot solely be re-used however has comparable or higher efficiency.
To compete more successfully on this new panorama, United Launch Alliance is phasing out its use of heritage Delta and Atlas rockets in favor of a brand new Vulcan-Centaur rocket. In dropping the Delta IV Medium, the corporate is eschewing Aerojet Rocketdyne’s pricey RS-68A predominant engine in favor of the much less-costly BE-4 engine below growth by the new space firm Blue Origin. Equally, it’s in search of to chop prices on Vulcan in different methods, whereas sustaining its efficiency.
This isn’t the last Delta rocket to fly, nevertheless. The US Air Force will proceed to assist the Delta IV Heavy program—which consists of three cores and is the second strongest rocket in existence after the Falcon Heavy—till different heavy-elevate options emerge. The ultimate flight for that automobile is more likely to are available in 2024, when it lofts a heavy spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.