Kennedy Space Center, Florida – Immortalizing an industry workhorse, the last remaining Delta II rocket has been assembled at the Kennedy Space Center’s Visitor Complex, gracing the skyline of the Space Coast in its outdoor display.
The 13-story-tall rocket was donated to the KSCVC by United Launch Alliance, the manufacturer of the Delta II rocket. The new exhibit is located at the so-called “Rocket Garden,” an outdoor display with several monumental rockets standing vertical, including those that launched some of the first Americans into space.
The Delta II has earned its place in the Rocket Garden, having launched the Global Positioning System, three rovers on Mars, countless probes exploring the Solar System, weather satellites providing early warning of hurricanes, and national security missions that have saved lives.
“ULA is proud that the Delta II rocket has been a significant piece of history, launching more than 50 missions for NASA,” said Gary Wentz, ULA vice president of government and commercial programs, in a ULA press release shortly after the final flight.
The McDonnell Douglas-designed Delta II first launched on Valentine’s Day 1989, with a GPS satellite. The rocket filled a unique medium-lift niche for the GPS constellation, and countless NASA exploration missions would later be designed to fit the vehicle’s performance.
Amongst these NASA missions included Kepler, a space-based telescope that discovered over 2000 planets outside of our Solar System, and completely rewriting our understanding of the universe, according to NASA’s Exoplanet Archive.
During the program’s heyday, the Delta II utilized two side-by-side launch pads at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, along with a single launch complex at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
After nearly 30 years of service and 156 launches, the Delta II embarked on its final mission, ICESat-2, in September 2018. Launching from California, the Earth-observing probe monitors ice at the poles, and the effect of climate change on sea-level rise.
The polar sentinel marked the 100th consecutive successful launch for the Delta II, the first time a rocket has ever achieved this milestone, according to collectSPACE, a website dedicated to spaceflight history.
The KSCVC has specially designed the display to ensure the artifact will remain safe from hurricanes, according to a ULA blog.
After a grand opening in March, attended by employees of the Delta program, the public is able to stand just a few feet away from the teal-colored rocket. The Delta II display is included in general admission to the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex, in Titusville, Florida.
"The Delta II exhibit will be visible when patrons arrive in the parking lot and will tower over the other historic rockets," said Gregg Cauthen, the Delta II display lead at ULA, in a blog posting on the company’s website.
The Delta II has touched the life of every American, from accurate navigation to essential and lifesaving weather forecasting – and with the opening of this exhibit, the over 1.5 million annual visitors at the KSCVC will be able to see the rocket that served generations.
"I hope the KSCVC guests understand all of the satellites and interplanetary probes that the Delta II put into space during the long career of this launch vehicle," Cauthen said in a ULA blog.