Boeing's Delta 4 testing rocket arrives in Florida
BY JUSTIN RAY
Posted: May 29, 2001
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Fresh off its series of critical test firings, Boeing's Delta 4 pathfinder rocket has arrived at Cape Canaveral to ensure the state-of-the-art launch facilities being built at Complex 37 are ready to handle the maiden flight of the next-generation launcher in March.
Riding on a specially-designed Elevating Platform Transporter, the 154-foot tall, 54,000-pound rocket stage then took a 9-mile trip up the road to Complex 37 to begin fit checks with ground equipment and the launch pad.
Scheduled for tests through August, the rocket will pave the way for delivery of the first flight-worthy Delta 4 vehicle to the Cape in September.
The pathfinder vehicle was the first Common Booster Core to roll off the assembly line. The CBC serves as the first stage for all five versions the Delta 4 rocket family, which have the ability to lift cargos from 9,300 to 29,000 pounds to geosynchronous transfer orbit.
"It is obviously an important process," Herst said of the pathfinding work ahead. "It validates all of the facilities, our ground support equipment, procedures and personnel skills to make sure all the things we have been working on over the past couple of years are correct and in place before the first (flight) rocket gets out here."
Then in July, the rocket will be rolled horizontally to the launch pad and erected vertically on the mount. The massive mobile service tower will be moved around the vehicle and platforms lowered into place to ensure everything fits properly.
Since some versions of the Delta 4 feature strap-on solid rocket motors, an inert booster casing will be hoisted on the pad to check clearances and ensure the ground equipment works.
"We will do everything that we can do with a non-flight rocket before we put the first flight rocket up there," Herst said.
Fueling tests are not on the agenda since the pathfinder's umbilical connections don't match up with the launch pad. Those sorts of demonstrations and countdown rehearsals will be saved for the inaugural-launch rocket during trials this winter.
The rocket that will make the maiden Delta 4 mission is currently under final assembly and checkout at Boeing's Decatur factory in Alabama.
As for the pathfinder rocket, once its chores are finished at the Cape in August, the booster will be set aside before being shipped late this year or early next to the Delta 4's West Coast launch site -- Vandenberg Air Force Base in California -- to undergo similar work.
Construction of the Vandenberg pad at Space Launch Complex 6 is still in the early stages since the first Delta 4 flight from there isn't planned until 2003.
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