The United Launch Alliance has been working for some time now to launch a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office, valued at more than $ 1 billion. On Tuesday evening, hours before the company’s latest attempt to launch the big Delta IV heavy booster, the mission was scrubbed 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. Interestingly, this is now Third The problem is that the ULA’s ground system equipment at Space Launch Complex-37 in Cape Canaveral, Florida suffered for this flight.
The mission, called NRL-44, was scheduled to launch in June. When it was delayed until the end of August, military officials did not give a reason for the schedule slip. However, on August 29, everything seemed nominal when it came to the three-core rocket liftoff from the Florida-based launch pad. When the countdown reached zero, three major RS-68 engines ignited and the launch conductor said, “Liftoff!”
But the rocket did not lift. Instead, the rocket was fired during a hot flame, while the fire spread around three cores. The last-second scrub mission was delayed by a few weeks as engineers investigated the matter and eventually caused a systemic system regulator to stop launching. Basically, these three regulators on the pad supply high pressure helium to the main engines. The regulator for the center core engine failed.
Tory Bruno, the company’s chief executive on Twitter Wrote, “The root cause of the pad side stick regulator has been found. The torn diaphragm may occur over time. The condition of the other 2 regs is being checked. Gradually the company will remove, upgrade and reinstall the regulators of all three engines. (Bruno did not respond to a request for comment on this story).
About a month later, the company was ready to launch the NRL-44 mission again, and even conducted a launch readiness review. A day before the Sept. 26 launch date, company Liftoff was delayed again. This time the culprit is the swing arm retraction system of the launch pad that pulls fuel lines and other connections from the rocket just before the liftoff. September 29 – The company took a few days to resolve the issue before setting a new launch date just before midnight on Tuesday.
Later, tragedy struck again. Local storms delayed preparations before launch. A few hours before the launch, when the mobile service tower supporting the rocket began to roll, that too became a problem. “When the MST roll started we found a hydraulic leak in the ground system needed to move the tower, which needs further evaluation.” The company tweeted.
Assuming the issue is resolved quickly, the NROL-44 launch is not currently scheduled for 11:54 pm ET Wednesday (03:54 UTC Thursday). The company has a commendable security record and we can be sure that they will only launch when everything is ready to go.
“Only a few launches left”
What’s going on here with these technical delays? Without being within the company or working directly on systems in Florida, it’s hard to know for sure. But there are some facts that cannot be considered.
One, the infrastructure at Launch Complex-37 is aging. The pad was first built by NASA in 1959 to support the Saturn I rocket. Pad “A” is no longer in use, but was acquired by ULA Launch Complex-37B two decades ago and upgraded in 2001 to support its single-core Delta IV and three-core Delta IV heavy rockets. The first Delta IV rocket was launched from the pad in November 2002.
The infrastructure on the Delta IV pad supports the notion that the tooth is getting a little longer, and Bruno’s comment that regulators are subject to wear and tear over time, as well as problems with the retracting arm and mobile service tower.
Another problem is that this pad is rarely used. The last Delta IV rocket flew from this launch site in August 2019, and by the end of 2016 the flight rate was only one rocket per year. Some launch-related systems can only be really tested under launch conditions, so problems can only be harvested during crunch with equipment.
Finally, there is the question of the future of the launch pad. The single-core Delta IV rocket UA has already retired, and plans to fly the Delta IV heavy rocket just four more times after the mission before retiring, in favor of a more cost-effective Vulcan-centro booster. Only two of these four aircraft will take off from the Space Launch Complex-37, so the company does not have much incentive to invest heavily in infrastructure.
“The Delta IV Heavy has only a few launches left, and the Space Launch Complex-37 will go to the cemetery,” said a Florida-based launch source. “I’m sure the money is moving to Vulcan and its launch pad, Space Launch Complex-41. These scrubs will disappoint other range users.”
Trevor Mahalman lists the picture for RS
Prone to fits of apathy. Unable to type with boxing gloves on. Internet advocate. Avid travel enthusiast. Entrepreneur. Music expert.