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Boeing Delta 3 rocket makes successful test launch

Posted: August 23, 2000

A sequence of images show the Delta 3 rocket igniting, lifting off, heading downrange and separation of the solid rocket motors. Photos: Boeing TV/Spaceflight Now
The Delta 3 rocket showed the world what it's made of today by successfully blasting into space on a crucial demonstration launch after two consecutive failures.

Riding an arc of blindingly bright golden flame, the Boeing-built rocket soared into a picturesque Florida summer sunrise at Cape Canaveral and darted across the Atlantic Ocean. Liftoff occurred at 7:05 a.m. EDT (1105 GMT) from pad 17B, some five minutes late because a temperature measurement was out of spec on the second stage.

Data relayed from onboard systems indicated the rocket performed normally, and after 36 minutes of tension-filled flight, Boeing officials broke into applause as the simulated communications satellite mockup was deployed into geosynchronous transfer orbit to complete the test launch.

"I am thrilled. This was a major success for us," Gale Schluter, vice president-general manager of Boeing Expendable Launch Systems said after the launch. "We have demonstrated this vehicle is operational from end to end."

The first two launches of the Delta 3 ended in misfortune in August 1998 and May 1999. The maiden flight exploded into a fireball just over a minute after liftoff when a software error cause a control system breakdown. The second try made it to orbit but the upper stage engine's combustion chamber ruptured because of faulty manufacturing.

The engine malfunction meant the satellite cargo being carried aloft wound up in a worthless orbit. However, the mission events continued as programmed and the Orion 3 spacecraft was deployed.

This morning's launch followed the exact same trek as the one 15 months ago so Boeing could directly compare the rocket's performance with the data gathered during the Orion 3 mission.

"Today, Delta 3 flew the same flight profile as the mission last year, allowing us to compare data from both flights on an event-by-event basis," Schluter explained.

The 9,586-pound satellite mockup flown aboard the Delta 3 on this third launch was built specifically to mimic the mass and frequency characteristics of Orion 3, a common communications spacecraft.

The 5 1/2-foot tall steel and aluminum object is shaped like a spool. It was painted with black and white markings for a series of U.S. Air Force and University of Colorado experiments to track the orbiting craft using radar and optical sensors on Earth.

Engineers also outfitted the rocket will special instrumentation, capturing about 140 measurements such as pressures, temperatures and accelerations, from different locations on the vehicle.

In addition, the rocket carried an onboard video camera to watch the second stage engine during the flight, including deployment of the nozzle extension of the RL10B-2 engine.

Boeing decided in June to fly the Delta 3 without a paying customer as a show of confidence for its new rocket, which is supposed to be an evolutionary step from the smaller, less powerful Delta 2 to the next-generation Delta 4 family. Plus, the company didn't want to miss the opportunity to sell additional rockets by waiting until a real payload came along.

The Delta 4, set to debut next spring, will use the same second stage and engine as the Delta 3. Officials said they needed to demonstrate that hardware was fixed after the Orion 3 failure.

  Onboard camera
The view from the second stage onboard camera shows the RL10B-2 engine in action. Photo: Boeing TV/Spaceflight Now
"Clearly the upper stage system that we are using is the Delta 4 upper stage system and we would like to be able to have flown that a good many times when Delta 4 is ready to fly," said Jay Witzling, Boeing's vice president of Delta 2 and Delta 3 programs. "We've got that behind us and certainly this is a good step."

Boeing's future in the fiercely competitive commercial launch market is the Delta 4 line -- a family of five different rocket combinations capable of lifting varying sizes of satellite cargoes. Delta 4 will go head-to-head against Lockheed Martin's planned Atlas 5 fleet, Arianespace's Ariane 4 and 5 rockets, the Sea Launch Zenit 3SL and the Russian Proton vehicle.

There are 18 launches booked on Delta 3 rockets over the next couple of years, including 11 for Hughes, five for Loral and two for the SkyBridge orbiting communications system. The next Delta 3 isn't expected until mid-2001.

Delta 3 ultimately will be phased out in favor of the wide-ranging versions of the Delta 4 fleet around mid-decade, Witzling said.

Today's launch was officially known as DM-F3, or Delta Mission-Flight 3, and marked the 280th flight of a Delta rocket dating back to 1960.

Flight Data File
Vehicle: Delta 3 (8930)
Payload: DM-F3
Launch date: August 23, 2000
Launch window: 1100-1500 GMT (7:00-11:00 a.m. EDT)
Launch site: SLC-17B, Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Video vault
The Boeing Delta 3 rocket lifts off August 23 from Cape Canaveral carrying a simulated satellite cargo for a demonstration launch.
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The six solid rocket motors ignited on the launch pad burn out and separate from the Boeing Delta 3 rocket some 80 seconds after liftoff.
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The three air-start solid rocket motors separate from the Boeing Delta 3 rocket over 2 1/2 minutes into the launch.
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A video camera mounted on the second stage shows the spent first stage separate and nozzle extension deploy and ignition of the RL10B-2 engine.
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Boeing's Jay Witzling comments on the successful flight of the Delta 3.
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Animation shows a typical Boeing Delta 3 rocket launch from liftoff through spacecraft deployment.
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The inaugural Boeing Delta 3 rocket launches from Cape Canaveral on August 26, 1998 but explodes just over a minute into the flight.
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A close-up view of the Delta 3 rocket exploding in 1998 as captured from a long range tracking camera.
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The second Delta 3 rocket lifts on May 4, 1999 from Cape Canaveral with the Orion 3 satellite.
  PLAY (241k, 34sec QuickTime file)
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Pre-launch briefing
Launch timeline - Chart with times and descriptions of events to occur during the launch.

Delta 3 rocket - Overview of the Delta 3 8930-model rocket.

Rocket diagram - Illustration shows the various components of the Delta 3.

Payload simulator - Description of the satellite mockup to be launched by Delta 3 and its research mission.

Orbit trace - A map shows the launch track for the mission.