Behind The Scenes: United Launch Alliance’s Horizontal Integration Facility


CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – While the Horizontal Integration Facility or HIF might sound similar to the Vertical Integration Facility or VIF – the buildings requirements and lay out could not be more different. Unlike the VIF, where the Atlas launch vehicle is lifted into the vertical position for launch, the launch vehicles remain on their sides in this structure.

Upon first entering the HIF, one sees what appears, upon first glance, to be a mundane warehouse type of structure. Those similarities cease when one enters the bays that contain the Delta IV rocket. The one resting within the facility now is destined to launch the Wideband Global SATCOM or WGS satellite, currently on track to lift off from Launch Complex-37 early next year.

For an idea of the size of the Delta IV, notice the two ULA technicians near the end of the launch vehicle. Photo Credit: Alan Walters

In preparation for launch a rocket’s first and second stages are brought into the HIF along with any solid rocket boosters that will be needed for that mission. These components are then assembled and the fully-assembled launch vehicle is then ready for the move out to the launch pad.

“The HIF can actually hold three Delta IV’s at any one given time,” said Mike Woolley of United Launch Alliance. “Once the Delta IV leaves the HIF, it takes us about a half-hour to get it to Launch Complex 37. Once we get there we then lift the Delta IV from the horizontal in to the vertical position.”

Ladders on either side of the Delta IV launch vehicle provide one with a stunning look down the length of the rocket. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

Whereas the VIF’s many decks, shrouds and layers obstruct one’s view of the rocket – nothing is left to the imagination at the HIF. The Delta IV sits out in the open. Visitors are able to walk completely around the massive rocket.

“We use a similar spray-on foam insulation as the one that was used on the space shuttle’s external tank,” Woolley said. “It has that coloration because of the moisture in the air and the Florida heat as it interacts with the foam.”

The HIF is seven-stories tall, white and is comprised of two bays that measure about 250 square feet by 100 feet each. To ensure that the launch vehicles that are brought into the building are kept level – the floors of the HIF, at most, differentiate only about 3/8 inch. This makes the HIF’s floors the most-level in the U.S.

The sheer scale of the Delta IV rocket is seen here, as the rocket stretches out across the length of one of the HIF's bay. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

In both the VIF and the HIF, the one thing that was apparent was that these are places where work is occurring. At both sites, United Launch Alliance workers were actively working to ensure that the Atlas V at the Vertical Integration Facility and the Delta IV at the Horizontal Integration Facility were ready to lift their individual payloads to orbit.

The WGS is tentatively scheduled to launch early next year (no firm launch date has been announced). WGS 4, 5 and 6 are under construction by the Boeing Company, they will be deployed over the course of the coming years. Like WGS 3 was also launched atop a Delta IV. These satellites are the Block II version of the WGS.

The Delta IV rocket is just as impressive from the front as it is from the rear. Soon the rocket will be moved out to Space Launch Complex 37 in preparation for launch. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

To get a better idea of what it was like inside of United Launch Alliance’s Horizontal Integration Facility, please check out the video feature below. This package contains a large amount of information provided by United Launch Alliance’s Mike Woolley – including a funny story – that could only happen in Florida.

2 Replies to “Behind The Scenes: United Launch Alliance’s Horizontal Integration Facility”

  1. Here Kitty, Kitty! Oops.. not a kitty…. GROWL! ER! LOL! Imagine that poor techie… steppin on a gator.. sheesh.. Coffee? No thanks.. I’m awake now!

  2. Once I had a chance to couch one of Europe’s older rockets. (The ones that all blew up LOL)
    What surprised me that that it was all aluminium or something very light.
    I started to get afraid that I poked a hole in it.

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