ULA Delta IV Heavy Rocket Launches NASA’s Parker Solar Probe Spacecraft

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket has launched NASA’s Parker Solar Probe at 3:31 a.m. EDT (0731 UTC) on Aug. 12 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.


It will take nearly 45 minutes to perform this Delta IV Heavy mission, from liftoff until deployment of Parker from the third stage of the launch vehicle.

The launch was initially planned on Saturday, but last-minute investigations have delayed it for around 24 hours. NASA had a weather window of 65 minutes to launch, but the time elapsed before the issue could be resolved.

The rocket variant flown is a special three-stage configuration that will give Parker the required velocity to escape the Earth’s gravity and begin its journey to the inner solar system. The three hydrogen-fueled cores will provide the initial thrust out of the atmosphere, then the cryogenic second stage will achieve a parking orbit and an intermediate escape orbit with two burns.

The solid-fuel third stage will deliver the final push on a trajectory to fly by Venus for the first time in about two months and make the first encounter with the sun in November.

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe

The Parker Solar Probe is 9.8 feet tall, about 3.3 feet in diameter and has a mass of over 1,400 pounds.

The spacecraft will be hurled into the inner Solar System, enabling the Nasa mission to zip past Venus in six weeks and make a first rendezvous with the Sun a further six weeks after that. The craft will orbit directly through the solar atmosphere – the corona – closer to the surface than any human-made object has ever gone. The corona is the place where much of the important activity that affects the Earth seems to originate.

The probe will dip inside this tenuous atmosphere, sampling conditions, and getting to just 6.16 million km (3.83 million miles) from the Sun’s broiling “surface”. The probe is also set to become the fastest-moving manmade object in history travelling around the Sun at speeds of up to 690,000km/h (430,000mph).

The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab in Laurel, Maryland, will perform ground commanding and flight operations for the Parker Solar Probe during its seven-year mission, as well as data processing and archiving.

“ULA is honored to launch the one-of-a-kind Parker Solar Probe,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “Only the Delta IV Heavy possesses the capability to deliver this unique mission to orbit, and we are proud to provide unmatched launch services to our NASA mission partners.”

Delta IV Heavy

NASA selected ULA’s Delta IV Heavy for its unique ability to deliver the necessary energy to begin the Parker Solar Probe’s journey to the sun.

The Delta IV Heavy is the nation’s proven heavy lifter, delivering high-priority missions for the U.S. Air Force (USAF), National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and NASA. With its advanced upper stage, Delta IV Heavy can take more than 14,500 pounds directly to geosynchronous orbit, as well as a wide variety of complex interplanetary trajectories.

The Delta IV Heavy rocket stands 233 feet tall, is 53 feet wide and will weigh 1.6 million pounds once fully fueled.

This Delta IV Heavy is comprised of three common core boosters each powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne (AR) RS-68A liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine, producing a combined total of more than 2.1 million pounds of thrust. The port and starboard boosters are more than 150 feet tall, and the center core with the interstage attached is over 175 feet in length. They measure 16.7 feet in diameter.

The Delta Cryogenic Second Stage, powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen engine producing 24,750 pounds of thrust , puts the vehicle into a preliminary orbit, then fires a second time to achieve an Earth-escape trajectory. The powerplant features a deployable carbon-carbon nozzle that is 7 feet in diameter.

Due to the extremely high energy required for this mission, the Delta IV Heavy’s capability will be augmented by a powerful Star 48BV motor provided by Northrop Grumman, which served as the rocket’s third stage. Star 48BV is the latest evolution in the long line of Star 48 stages and incorporates a vectorable nozzle for added maneuverability.

This was the 37th launch of the Delta IV rocket since 2002, and the 10th in the Heavy configuration. It is also the 380th Delta rocket launch since 1960. To date ULA has a track record of 100 percent mission success with 128 successful launches, excluding this launch.

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