CAPE CANAVERAL Fla. – Space Launch Complex 37 is where United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rockets send their payloads into orbit. It is an expansive complex with all the prerequisite requirements to launch rockets as well as birds, alligators and mosquitoes – lots of mosquitoes.
Universe Today was provided with a top to bottom tour of the Mobile Service Tower (MST) that is currently the home of the Delta IV medium rocket that will launch a GPS rocket to orbit on July 14. This structure in and of itself is impressive, standing as tall as a football field is long.
When one reaches the ninth level, the ‘tip of the spear’ juts out from the floor. At the base, just peeking out from the deck below is the U.S. Air Force logo for the Global Positioning Wing. We would have to go down another level to see the remainder of the logo – it was that large.
It is at this level that where the fairing section is mated to the top of the rocket is plainly visible. A Boeing logo is also visible on the rocket’s hull. It turns out that while some of the more specialized missions have large decals produced for them – for missions such as this one (this rocket will carry the GPS 2F-2 satellite) a series of stencils are used.
On some of the lower decks it wasn’t actually the rocket itself that was interesting – but rather what was not there that intrigued us. Two large circular holes are positioned to either side of the Delta IV medium rocket – this is to accommodate the triple-body design of the rocket’s far-larger cousin – the Delta IV Heavy. For now these portals are covered in mesh and blocked off by railings.
Nearer the base we come across products of Utah’s Alliant Techsystems (ATK) – two solid rocket motors are mounted to either side of the Delta IV and will provide the vehicle the extra needed push to get its payload out of Earth’s gravity well.
It is sometimes difficult to get experts that work on the machines to translate what they do into language that the general public can understand. It was obvious that the ULA representative that conducted the tour – was well aware of this. Making sure that we had the specific technical names and numbers of what we were looking at – but more accessible means of comprehending the numbers we were given.
“Room with a view”
Alan Walters, a professional photojournalist that has covered the space program for the past few years has a keen eye and suggested on one of the middle levels that I work my way around the rocket to take in the scenery. To say that it takes your breath away does not give the landscape that stretches out in front of you justice. Florida’s Space Coast arches out for miles in front of you. An early-morning storm was blowing into the region the day of the tour – adding to the spectacle.
Jason has degrees in journalism and public relations. He has covered over 30 launches as well as other space-related events – including flying with Commander Chris Ferguson as he trained for the final shuttle mission, the president’s visit to KSC and from Utah during the test of the five-segment DM-2 booster.