Following the successful launch of NASA’s Parker Solar Probe aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket earlier this year, engine provider Aerojet Rocketdyne is gearing up for the next scheduled mission of the launch vehicle.
On December 7, a Delta IV Heavy is slated to launch a classified national security payload for the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Aerojet Rocketdyne supplies the main and upper-stage engines, as well as pressure tanks, for the Delta IV.
The upcoming NRO mission marks the tenth operational launch of the Delta IV Heavy and the 38th overall for the Delta IV family, which debuted in 2002. The nine previous missions flown in this launch vehicle configuration have all been successful.
In its Heavy configuration, the Delta IV features three side-by-side common booster cores that comprise the first stage. Each booster is powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68A engine. Capable of generating 702,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, the RS-68A is the world’s most powerful hydrogen-fueled engine.
The rocket’s second stage is powered by an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10B-2 engine, which generates 24,750 pounds of thrust at altitude. The RL10 family of liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen-fueled engines has been in operation on various vehicles for more than five decades. Aerojet Rocketdyne also supplied the 12 MR-106 reaction control thrusters on the Delta Cryogenic Second Stage.
ARDÉ, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne, provides the pressure vessels on the first and second stages of the launch vehicle.
Eileen Drake, CEO and President of Aerojet Rocketdyne, said that while the Delta IV’s excellent track record might give the appearance that space launch is routine, the truth is that ensuring mission success requires diligence and vigilance on the part of everyone involved. The company's engines are the centerpiece of the Delta IV Heavy, the only launch vehicle that has successfully delivered the heaviest payloads to orbit for the Defense Department.