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

The Horizontal Integration Facility or HIF, is where United Launch Alliance assembles the massive Delta IV rocket (all variants) for launch. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian


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.

In Focus: Aerospace Photojournalist Mike Killian

Mike Killian is an aerospace journalist who jumped at the opportunity to cover space events at Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Photos Courtesy of Mike Killian

[/caption]CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla – The photographers that cover the events that take place in and around Florida’s Space Coast come from diverse backgrounds. However, when it comes to the passion that attracts so many to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center – their origins are very similar.

Many amateur photographers like Mike Killian have always been interested in spaceflight, in capturing the spectacle of launch. Like Killian, these photographers start out not knowing how to get onto Kennedy Space Center to shoot the launches and other events that take place there. They work out arrangements with NASA friends to get close and then, finally, they get affiliated with an accredited news organization (in Killian’s case the ARES Institute).

“I have loved the space program since I was a child,” Killian said. “Most folks that come out here and do this I doubt very highly that they do it thinking they will get rich. They do it because what they are showing the world is so important, so awe-inspiring…and so beautiful.”

Killian caught the reflection of space shuttle Atlantis as it was towed back to its OPF after completing the final mission of the space shuttle era - STS-135. Photo Courtesy of Mike Killian

Killian has only covered the space program as a photographer for a relatively short time, about three years. During that time however – he has covered some pivotal points in space flight history. The last flights of the space shuttle era, the launch of spacecraft to Earth orbit, the Moon and soon Mars. Killian, also like his compatriots, sacrifices long hours and endures low pay to capture images of these events. But when he gets that perfect shot of solid rocket boosters separating from an Atlas V on its way to orbit, or the final landing of the space shuttle – it is all worth it.

“Photography is pretty much like anything else,” said Killian during a recent interview. “It’s all about timing – being at the right place – at the right time.”

Whether static or in dramtic motion, Killian has captured the space shuttle program's final days. Photo Courtesy of Mike Killian

One recurring theme that occurs in aerospace photography is – progression. Photographers will come out to KSC/CCAFS with their digital cameras, then they will buy a more powerful camera and then they move on to remote cameras. When one hears remote they think the cameras are far away – the truth is that these cameras are extremely close. “Remote” means that they are remotely activated – generally by either a sound or light sensor.

Killian employs 2 Canon Rebel XSi cameras due to the camera’s affordability and versatility.

The 27-year-old, unlike many of his colleagues, does have a favorite image – and it isn’t even one that he took on Kennedy Space Center proper.

Killian's favorite shot shows Launch Complex 39A in the distance, a Shuttle Training Aircraft or STA checking weather conditions - and a very active thunderstorm. Photo Courtesy of Mike Killian

“My favorite shot thus far is of a lightning storm over KSC for the night launch of Discovery on STS-128. That storm scrubbed the launch attempt, but the images I captured that night were unreal,” said Killian. “This particular photo has so much going on – Discovery basking in xenon lights atop launch pad 39A fully fueled with her crew onboard, lightning racing through the clouds directly above KSC, & the shuttle training aircraft flying over the storm (upper left of photo) on weather recon trying to determine if there would be any chance the storm could let up in time to support a launch that night. It’s very unique, not your typical launch photo.”

For Killian photographing the space program allows him to both combine his love of photography with the driving interest that he has for space flight. Killian has no plans to stop photographing the space program anytime soon. For him this is not about the money, it’s about the history of thunder and the wonder of light and like so many of his fellow photojournalists he feels privileged to be able to do what he does.

Killian has covered many different events at Kennedy Space Center. His camera has captured events as stirring as the final launch of the shuttle era - and as poignant as the final rollout of space shuttle Discovery (seen here). Images Courtesy of Mike Killian

United Launch Alliance’s Delta II Approved for Potentially Five More Launches

United Launch Alliance's Delta II rocket has been added to the National Launch Services II contract by NASA. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/

NASA announced that it has added the Delta II rocket, a launch vehicle that appeared to be slipping into history, to the NASA Launch Services (NLS) II contract. The Delta II, produced by United Launch Alliance, is one of the most successful expendable launch vehicles that has ever been produced.

This modification of the contract will allow ULA to add the Delta II rocket as part of the contract’s on-ramp provision. The modification allows United Launch Services to offer as much as five Delta II rockets.

The Delta II was most recently utilized to launch the GRAIL mission to study the Moon's composition. Photo Credit: Mike Killian/ARES Institute

“We are extremely pleased NASA has added the reliable Delta II to the NLS II contract and look forward to continuing the legacy of the program,” said Michael Gass, ULA’s president and CEO. “ULA has demonstrated its ability to fully integrate Atlas V, Delta IV and Delta II product lines allowing us to continue offering medium launch capability at the best value for our customers.”

The Delta II rocket, in its various configurations has been launched 150 times and has a success rate of 98.7 percent. The one notable failure was the 1997 launch of a U.S. Air Force Global Positioning IIR-1 satellite (GPS IIR-1). Within 13 seconds of launch the Delta II exploded causing severe destruction to the surrounding area. The cause of this mishap was determined to be a crack within one of the GEM-40 solid rocket boosters that are affixed to the base of the Delta II.

The Delta II rocket has a very extensive history of success and has been used to launch many famous missions. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

“While we count success one mission at a time, we have been able to count on the Delta II’s success 96 times in a row over the last decade,” Gass said. “This is a tribute to our dedicated ULA employees, our supplier teammates and our NASA Launch Services Program customer who ensures mission success is the focus of each and every launch.”

The planetary science missions that the rocket has sent into space reads like a “Who’s Who” of space exploration missions. The Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity, Mars Phoenix Lander, Genesis, Stardust, Mars Pathfinder, Mars Global Surveyor, Messenger, Deep Impact, Dawn, Kepler, Wise and the recent GRAIL mission to the Moon – all thundered to orbit atop a Delta II.

The Delta II rocket is launched from either Vandenberg Air Force Base in California or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station located in Florida. Photo Credit:

ULA’s next planned launch of a Delta II will carry the NPOESS Preparatory Project (NPP) mission for NASA. It is currently slated to launch Oct. 25, 2011 from Space Launch Complex-2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, located in California. ULA launches from both Vandenberg as well as Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, located in Florida.

While this change does allow for at least five more launches of the Delta II, after those launches, the rocket will no longer be utilized and will be phased out of service.

The NLS II contracts are designed to provide for payloads weighing about 550 pounds or more to be sent to a minimum 124-mile-high circular orbit. The launch service providers signed into these contracts also may offer different launch vehicles to NASA to meet other requirements. NASA can also provide launch services to other agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or NOAA.

Spirit and Opportunity, Pathfinder, Deep Impact, Dawn, Kepler, Stardust, Genesis and Wise - were all launched on the Delta II rocket. Photo Credit: NASA/George Shelton