Hexbyte Tech News Wired The Delta II Rocket That Gave Us GPS and the Mars Rovers Retires

Hexbyte Tech News Wired

Last weekend, the Delta II rocket—for 30 years a regular fixture on launchpads in the United States—lifted off for the final time. The vehicle, built by the United Launch Alliance, had long carried the title of the most reliable rocket in service. With a record 153 successful launches out of 155 flights, the 125-foot-tall monolith, with its sporty teal-and-white paint scheme, is now officially a figure of the past.

The Delta II first launched on Valentine’s Day, February 14, 1989, carrying the first full-scale GPS satellite and kickstarting the navigation constellation that we continue to depend on decades later. That satellite was originally slated to hitch a ride to orbit on the back of a space shuttle. After the Challenger’s tragic explosion in 1986, the Air Force had to find new rides for its planned satellite constellation. With the shuttle program grounded for the foreseeable future, President Ronald Reagan directed the military to develop its own rockets, which led to a series of upgrades culminating in the Delta II.

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