The final Delta II rocket and its NASA payload remain on track for departure early Saturday morning from Vandenberg Air Force Base, but those hoping to see the program’s historic finale might have to settle for simply hearing it.
Liftoff of the United Launch Alliance booster from Space Launch Complex-2 is planned for 5:46 a.m., the start of what officials say is a 40-minute window.
Weather troubles such as winds that can interrupt launch plans were not expected for Saturday morning.
“The big question we always get asked is, ‘Will we be able to see the launch?’ Unfortunately, if you live here at Vandenberg, you know the marine layer likes to hug the coast, and we are forecasting some low clouds with patchy fog, which would reduce visibility 2 to 3 miles,” said 1st Lt. Daniel Smith, launch weather officer with the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg.
Hundreds of people, including retirees who worked for the Delta II manufacturers through the years, were invited to return to Vandenberg to see the last launch.
Delta II uses a launch site west of the Vandenberg airfield. SLC-2 stands out since it’s painted blue.
Off-base viewing sites include Harris Grade Road and Vandenberg Village, but inland locations might offer better vantage points because of the marine layer.
The rocket will carry a NASA Ice, Cloud and Land Elevation Satellite, ICESat-2, to collect measurements of the Earth’s surface using a laser.
This will be the 45th Delta II rocket launch from Vandenberg and the 155th Delta II, including missions from both coasts.
“I’m a little bit melancholy about this,” said Tim Dunn, NASA launch director. “Delta II holds a really special place in so many folks in the launch industry hearts.”
The rocket will sail into the history books because satellite builders stopped requiring the Delta II class of rocket, leading to the end of the manufacturing line.
“We have an amazing rocket. We have an amazing team,” Dunn said.
The rocket also carries 200 stars signed by the hundreds of people who worked on the programs, according to ULA’s Scott Messer.
He noted that the Delta II has carried an assortment of NASA science missions and weather satellites along with Global Positioning System satellites for space-based navigation now accessible from smartphones.
“If you think about that, the Delta II vehicle has touched the life of probably every single person in America in the technology that it has enabled over its 30 years,” Messer said. “So it’s been a very, very prominent part of space history and a very important part of probably everyone’s life in America.”