Delta III - History


Throughout the 1990s, satellite masses were growing steadily. It was apparent that the Delta II could not lift many upcoming payloads. In addition, the Delta was a relatively complex launch vehicle, designed for mission flexibility and low development costs rather than low operating cost. Boeing felt the need to maintain market position, through increased capacity, more competitive pricing, and expedited launch-site operations.

Delta Flight 259: The inaugural launch on 26 August 1998 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ended in failure, when software adapted from the Delta II caused a guidance failure during first-stage flight. The failure and subsequent vehicle motion depleted the hydraulic fluid used for steering. Upon loss of control, the vehicle was destroyed. The Galaxy X satellite (Hughes HS601 HP type) crashed in the Atlantic Ocean.

Delta Flight 269: The second launch on 4 May 1999, also from Cape Canaveral, also ended in failure. The second stage engine experienced a pressure anomaly and rupture, and shut down while its second burn was underway. The Orion 3 satellite (Hughes HS601 model) was stranded in a useless orbit.

Delta Flight 280: The third and final flight was 23 August 2000, and launched the DM-F3 payload. This was a dummy payload designed to mimic an HS601 communications satellite, and equipped with sensors to monitor vehicle characteristics. Final orbit was slightly low (180.76 x 20,694 km x 27.5 deg. versus a planned 185 x 23,404 km), but the orbit apogee was within the allowable 3,000 km margin of error allowing Boeing to declare the flight a success. However, with the combined factors of a declining satellite launch market, low customer confidence following the two consecutive failures, and the advent of Boeing's new Delta IV, this would prove to be the Delta III's final launch campaign.

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