Delta II’s swansong launch puts NASA’s ICESat-2 spacecraft into orbit

by | Sep 18, 2018 | commercial launch services, Launches, NASA, Seradata News

The final launch of the venerable Delta II launch vehicle was made from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California carrying NASA’s Ice, Cloud and land Elevation Satellite-2 (ICESat-2) into a near-polar sun-synchronous low Earth orbit. This mission was launched aboard a Delta II 7420-10 configuration rocket, which included a 10-foot-diameter payload fairing (PLF) and four GEM-40 solid rocket boosters. The first stage of the rocket was powered by the RS-27A engine and the second stage by the AJ10-118K engine. The launch, which lifted off at 1302 GMT on 15 September, was the final and 155th flight of Delta II, which first launched on 14 February 1989.

Last Delta II launch is ignited. Courtesy: ULA

Delta II can trace its bloodline back via its predecessor the Delta I to the Thor rockets of the 1960s. With just four failures and partial failures, the Delta II was regarded as a reliable workhorse. This launch was performed under the authority of its current launch provider, the Boeing/Lockheed Martin jointly-owned United Launch Alliance (ULA).

ICESat-2 will provide scientists with height measurements to create a global portrait of Earth’s third dimension, gathering data that can precisely track changes of terrain including glaciers, sea ice, forests etc. Northrop Grumman built the spacecraft. In addition to ICESat-2, this mission included four CubeSats, which launched from dispensers mounted to the Delta II second stage. Among these were the UCLA’s Elfin and Elfinstar spacecraft to explore the mechanisms responsible for the loss of relativistic electrons from the radiation belts around Earth, CalPoly’s Polysat 7, which is doing vibrational research, and the University of Central Florida (UCF) spacecraft Surfsat (UCF), which is researching surface charging.

Flights of the Delta II rocket have become increasingly rare in recent years after the US Air Force moved its spacecraft to the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles operated by ULA. The remaining rockets in storage have been slowly used up by NASA to launch scientific satellites like ICESat-2.  There is now just one remaining Delta II. However, this will not fly. Instead, ULA has donated it to the Kennedy Space Center museum in Florida where it will be displayed in the “rocket garden” in its final Delta II 7420-10 configuration.

Comment by David Todd:  This writer has been involved in reporting space launches since the late 1990s, and it was one of the rare failures of the Delta II that was the first rocket failure he wrote about. In those days, before streaming videos, he found himself on the end of a telephone line to the Cape Canaveral Air Force base to find out how it had gone, only to be told that it had “just blown up”. That total launch failure, in January 1997, became famous for not only destroying the GPS IIR-1 satellite it was carrying, but also wiping out a lot of the reporters’ cars in the car park. See that failure here.

About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned Seradata database. Trusted by over 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, Seradata is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to

Related Articles

OSIRIS REx returns its Bennu asteroid sample capsule to Earth then heads for new asteroid on OSIRIS-APEx mission

Having been launched in September 2016, the main sample return pat of the OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu has Read more

Falcon 9 launches Starlink Group 6-18 from Cape Canaveral, then one puts Starlink Group 7-3 up from Vandenberg

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9v1.2FT Block 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA at 0338 GMT on 24 September Read more

Galactic Energy of China suffers first launch failure of its Ceres-1 rocket losing insured Jilin 1 Gaofen 04B-01

Having been launched at 0459 GMT on the morning of 21 September it later filtered out that the Ceres-1 Y11 Read more

Starlink Group 6-17 is launched by Falcon 9

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9v1.2FT Block 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA at 0338 GMT on 20 September Read more

Electron KS rocket has another failure losing Acadia 2 radar Earth observation satellite

Rocket Lab launched Electron KS from Māhia Peninsula, New Zealand, at 0655 GMT on 19 September 2023. The Electron was Read more

China launches Long March 2D carrying Yaogan 39 trio

China successfully launched a Long March 2D/2 (CZ-2D/2) from Xichang Satellite Launch Centre, Sichuan Province, China at 0312 GMT on Read more

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 with Starlink Group 6-16 aboard

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9v1.2FT Block 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA at 0338 GMT on 16 September Read more

Soyuz MS-24 is launched into orbit on Soyuz 2-1a from Baikonur on way to ISS

Soyuz MS-24 was launched via a Soyuz 2-1a rocket into orbit at 1544 GMT on 15 September 2023 from Baikonur Read more

Victus Nox payload is launched by Firefly Alpha in rapid response launch test

There was an unexpected launch of the Firefly Alpha rocket (its third flight) which took place from Vandenberg, California, at Read more




nasaspacexecoreviewsissesaArianespacevideochina25virgin galacticfalcon 9ULAFalcon 9v1.2FT Block 5RoscosmosevaDGAspacewalkaviation weekaressoyuzIGTInternational Space StationBeidouawardsspaceBlue OriginSatellite broadcastingRocket LabStarlinkrussiamoonCargo Return VehicleboeingAirbus DSresearchmarsblogISROOneWeborionspaceshiptwojaxaimpacthyperboladelaymarsdemocratrocketEutelsatobamagoogle lunar prizelunarhypertextlaunchVegaSEStourismbarack obamaconstellationfiguresnorthspaceflightthales alenia spacenode 2fundedRaymond LygoIntelsatLockheed Martin2009Express MD-2Atlas Vromess2Elon Muskdassault aviationaviationLucy2008wk2sstlukradiotestmissilesuborbitaldocking portexplorationAriane 5 ECAVirgin OrbitinternetChina Manned Space EngineeringAriane 5SLSsts-1222010flightspace tourismNorthrop Grummancotsnewspapermissile defensegalileospaceportExpress AMU 1Long March 2D/2Electronbuildspace stationaltairLong March 4Cinternational astronautical congresssoyuz 2-1ashuttleProton MEuropean Space AgencyLauncherOneCosmosIntelsat 23scaled compositeshanleybudgetrulesnew yorkAriane 6shenzhouspace shuttleatvVietnamcongressMojaveboldenLong March 2COrbital ATKnew shepardInmarsatGuiana Space Centeriaccneslunar landerksclawsSpace Systems/LoralUK Space AgencyLong March 4BILSUS Air ForceprotonTalulah RileyApollodarpaFalcon 9v1.2 Block 5Kuaizhou 1AVega CSkylonAstriumeupicturebaseusaastronautdragonlanderfiveeventTelesatSSLElectron KSNorth KoreaAprilSNCWednesdayinterviewSea Launchfalcon50thcustomerlinkLong Marchatlantissuccessor