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Launch Services Series Webcasts: Swift Launch Processing
Tiffany Nail: Right now, Swift is poised atop a Delta II on Pad 17 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station here in Florida. Now, if you've ever wondered how a Delta II launches into space, you are about to find out. NASA's launch manager, Omar Baez, takes us on this in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at the dependable Delta II rocket and its launch pad.

Omar Baez: I'm Omar Baez, NASA launch director, on the Complex 17A where we launch the Boeing Delta II rocket, and this rocket behind me is the booster that is being readied for the Swift launch. The Delta II was selected for the Swift mission because of the weight/size requirements and the location that Swift is going to be doing its science.

The Delta II launch vehicle from bottom to top is 125 feet and some of the configurations it can launch, the equivalent of a suburban-class utility vehicle with a trailer and a 25-foot boat behind it. That's roughly 10,000 pounds. It could launch that to a low Earth orbit, which is roughly 600 kilometers. This particular vehicle here is a two-stage vehicle that's used for Swift. The Delta can be a three-stage vehicle, but for this particular mission we are using a two stage. And what that consists of is the first stage, if you look from the base up, you'll see that blue-teal rocket and you'll see the white solid rocket motor around it. That's what we consider the first stage booster. Up on top and into the white enclosure and residing with the teal rocket is the second stage.

The second stage on the Delta II vehicle is a hypergolic -- hypergolic engine. In other words, it uses two fuels: an Aerozine-50 and a Nitrogen Peroxide. When those two chemicals mix, there is a spontaneous reaction and that's what we use for moving the second stage along as its power source. The booster, the teal part, is built in Deacatur, Alabama, and is brought here approximately six months out from launch and is checked out here in a facility called Dempco. Boosters then go from there to either the pads or out to Vandenberg for launches out there. Right now, NASA is on contract with Boeing for them to provide us 19 additional launches on the Delta II. This vehicle is extremely reliable. This is really the workhorse of the NASA space science missions and the mission to explore the universe.

Any mission that goes outside of our atmosphere here and our orbit leaves from this pad. Its inception came out of 1960. That's the first launch of that vehicle. Forty-four years later and we'll still launching variations of that vehicle. So, it's hard to predict where this is going, but something is right when we have done this for 44 years. This pad behind me can also handle, is the only one that can handle, the Delta Lights. In other words, the Delta's with less number of solid rocket boosters.

The Delta II can use both pads, both Pad A and Pad B, in the standard configuration, which is nine solids. Pad A can handle three solids, four solids, and the nine solid vehicle. The other pad can use the nine solid vehicle and the heavy vehicle and it was also designed to launch the Delta III. At the base we have what is called the launch mound, which is where the rocket is standing up on and then the structure that you see around it is the missile service tower, the MST. And then you see another structure buried under it which is the fixed umbilical tower, which is there after we roll that MST back for launch. We can't launch through a big grating and scaffolding, so we actually move that structure a couple of hundred feet to the west. And there is one tower that remains there and that holds the umbilicals.

The reflecting pond is actually a pond to hold the deluge water that we use to cool the pad and the surface of the pad while we launch. While I'd like to say that things get moving here about 30 days out, the spacecraft arrives roughly ten days out from launch. And you'll see that it gets transitioned up using a crane and gets moved into that white enclosure you see up towards the top of the rocket and the top of the missile service tower there.

On launch day, what you'll see is a really good-looking, blue-teal rocket with the three solid rocket motors. There's all kind of preparations that go into effect in the last 12 hours and that's when everything starts to be secured. Everything starts to be moved out here and fastened down. The ordinance devices, or the explosive devices, are armed. We get our fuel farms ready for transfer of fuel and the liquid oxygen. And launch day it's very exciting.