Delta IV heavy rocket delayed again, raising concerns of aging infrastructure

The United Launch Alliance is attempting to launch a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, valued at more than $ 1 billion, for a long time. On Tuesday evening, a few hours before the company’s latest attempt to launch a large Delta IV heavy booster, the mission was cleared again.

The weather at the launch site was far from optimal, but the mission was delayed due to a technical problem with the launch pad. Significantly it is now The third The issue that the company, ULA, experienced for this flight with its ground system equipment at Space Launch Complex-37 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The mission, originally named NROL-44, was originally due to launch in June. When it was delayed until the end of August, military officials did not indicate the reason for the schedule slip. However, on August 29, everything seemed nominal as the three-core rocket was counted to liftoff from its Florida-based launch pad. The countdown reached zero, the three main RS-68 engines ignited, and the launch conductor said, “Liftoff!”
But the rocket did not lift. Instead, even when the fire took place around the three corpses, the rocket fired during a hotfire miscarriage. This last-second scrub delayed the mission for a few weeks as engineers investigated the issue and eventually determined that a ground system regulator canceled the launch. Essentially, three of these regulators on the pad deliver high-pressure helium to the main engines. Regulator for center core engine failed.
On Twitter, the company’s chief executive, Tory Bruno, wrote, “The root cause of the pad side stuck regulator. Tattered diaphragm, which may occur over time. Confirming the condition of the other 2 regs. We will replace or rebuild as needed.” Eventually the company would remove the regulators for all three engines, revive them and reinstall them. (Bruno did not respond to a request for comment for this story).

About a month later, the company remodeled to launch the NOL-44 mission, even passing a launch readiness review. Then, a day before the 26 September launch date, the company again delayed the liftoff. This time the culprit was a problem with the launch pad’s swing arm retraction system, which pulls fuel lines and other connections from the rocket just before liftoff. It took the company a few days to fix the problem, before setting a new launch date on September 29 – Tuesday evening.

Then, disaster struck again. Local storms caused delays in pre-launch preparations. And when the mobile service tower supporting the rocket rolled down a few hours before launch, it also had a problem. “When the MST roll began we discovered a hydraulic leak in the ground system required to move the tower which needs further evaluation” Company tweeted.

The NOL-44 launch is now scheduled for 11:54 pm ET Wednesday (03:54 UTC Thursday) before assuming that the problem can be fixed quickly. The company has an admirable safety record, and we can be sure that they will launch only when everything is ready to go.

“Only a few launches left”

So what is happening here with all these technical delays? Without being inside the company or working directly on the system in Florida, it is difficult to be sure. But there are few available facts to consider.

One, the infrastructure at launch complex-37 is aging. The pad was first created by NASA in 1959 to support the Saturn Eye rocket. Pad “A” has been in dispute ever since, but ULA took over the Launch Complex-37B nearly two decades ago, and revised it in 2001 to make its single-core Delta IV and three-core Delta IV heavier Rockets supported. The first Delta IV rocket was launched from the pad in November 2002.

The infrastructure on the Delta IV pads is getting a bit taller in the teeth, backed by Bruno’s comment that regulators are subject to wear and tear over time, as well as retracted hands and mobile service towers. There are also problems with.

Another issue is that this pad is used repeatedly. The last Delta IV rocket flew from this launch site in August 2019, and the flight rate in the year to the end of 2016 is only about one rocket. Some ground systems included with a launch can only be actually tested under launch conditions, so problems may crop up with the equipment only at crunch time.

Finally, the future of the launch pad is concerned. ULA has already retired the single-core Delta IV rocket, and plans to fly the Delta IV heavy rocket only four times after this mission before its retirement in favor of a more cost-effective Vulcan-Centaur booster. Of those four flights, only two will be from Space Launch Complex-37, so the company has no good incentive to invest heavily in infrastructure.

“There are only a few launches left in Delta IV Heavy, and the space leads to the Launch Complex-37 Cemetery,” said a Florida-based launch source. “I’m sure the money is being transferred to Vulcan and its launch pad, Space Launch Complex-41. These scrubs will not disappoint other range users.”

Image listed by Trevor Mahlmann for Ars

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