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Delta rocket retires after 60 years of Cape Canaveral launches

The last launch of a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral on April 9, 2024
Brandon Moser
Central Florida Public Media
The last launch of a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral on April 9, 2024

United Launch Alliance launched its last Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral early Tuesday afternoon.

After 60 years and nearly 400 flights, the name Delta is being retired in favor of Vulcan, ULA’s new generation of rockets.

Since its first launch in 1960, the Delta family of rockets enabled the original Global Positioning Systems (GPS), launched a handful of scientific experiments and sent eight NASA payloads to Mars.

A Delta IV Heavy rocket launched NASA’s Exploration Flight Test-1, carrying an uncrewed Orion space capsule. The December 2014 flight was a critical test of the design of the Orion spacecraft, developed to carry astronauts to deep space on a mission to the moon. The mission tested critical systems of the vehicle during its 3,600 mile high orbit, including the heat shield. An iteration of the spacecraft is slated to take four astronauts on a trip around the moon next year.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno celebrated Delta IV Heavy's history after the 12:53pm launch.

“I also want to talk about its tremendous contribution to our nation, to exploration, to national security,” Bruno said. “The Delta IV Heavy still today flies missions that no other rocket can fly. Soon the Vulcan will pick up that mantle.”

Vulcan is less expensive and more flexible in terms of power usage, according to ULA. It had a successful test flight in January.

Nicole came to Central Florida to attend Rollins College and started working for Orlando’s ABC News Radio affiliate shortly after graduation. She joined Central Florida Public Media in 2010. As a field reporter, news anchor and radio show host in the City Beautiful, she has covered everything from local arts to national elections, from extraordinary hurricanes to historic space flights, from the people and procedures of Florida’s justice system to the changing face of the state’s economy.
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