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Thor and Delta Rockets

Thor and Delta Rockets Overview

Developed in the 1950's, the PGM-17 Thor IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) soon became one of Americas most important space launchers. Thor rockets, in the Thor-Agena configuration, were used to launch Corona spy satellites.

During the early 1960's, the Thor launcher evolved into the Delta family of space launchers. The Delta series of rockets became one of the worlds most reliable satellite launchers. Current versions, known as Delta IV, will be in service for many years to come.

Thor missile illustration Thor-Able Rocket illustration Thor-Agena Rocket illustration Delta-B Rocket illustration Delta-D Rocket illustration Delta-E Rocket illustration Delta-M Rocket illustration Delta-2914 Rocket illustration Delta-3920 Rocket illustration Delta-7326 Rocket illustration Delta-7925 Rocket illustration Delta-7426 Rocket illustration Delta-7920H Rocket Delta-7920H-10 Rocket Delta-7925 Rocket illustration Delta-7925-8 Rocket illustration Delta-7925-10L Rocket illustration Delta-7925H Rocket illustration Delta-3 Rocket illustration Delta-4M Rocket illustration Delta-4 medium plus rocket illustration Delta-4 Heavy Rocket illustration 1.8 Meter Human Figure

Left to right: Thor Missle (PGM-17A), Thor-Able, Thor-Agena, Delta A, Delta-D, Delta-E, Delta-M, Delta-2914, Delta-3920, Delta-7326, Delta-7425, Delta-7426, Delta-7920H, Delta-7920H-10, Delta-7925, Delta-7925-8, Delta-7925-10L, Delta-7925H, Delta III, Delta IV-M, Delta IV-M+, Delta IV-H, Human figure for scale (1.8m tall).

Thor Rockets

Thor missile illustration

Thor Missle (PGM-17A)

Developed in the 1950's, the Thor IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile) first successful launch took place on 20 September 1957. The missile saw service in Great Britain during the early 1960's.

Thor used RP-1 and liquid oxygen as propellants. The missile had a range of around 2,400 km. An LR-79 engine propelled the missile. Two steriable LR-101 vernier rockets, mounted at the missiles base on either side of the main engine, provided directional control.

The Thor missile later evolved into the Delta family of rockets.

Thor-Able Rocket illustration


First flown in 1958, Thor-Able combined a Thor first stage with the Able upper stage. Able was derived from the second stage used on the Vanguard satellite launcher. Early Thor-Able launches flew in support of the ARTV (advanced reentry test vehicle) program. Thor-Able rockets also launched a number of early orbital satellites, including Explorer 6, Tiros 1, and a number of early Pioneer missions. All missions were launched from LC-17A at Cape Canaveral.

The Pioneer 5 space probe was launched on a Thor-Able rocket on 11 March 1960.

Thor-Able Photos

Thor-Able rocket at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum . (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2009)

Thor-Able Thor-Able Thor-Able Thor-Able Thor-Able Thor-Able Thor-Able Thor-Able

Thor-Agena Rocket illustration


The Thor-Agena satellite launcher added an agena upper stage to the rocket. Early missions launched Discoverer program payloads. The Discoverer program investigated techniques for returning small payloads from orbit. Specifically, reentry and recovery of photographic reconnaissance film, is support of the then secrete Corona photographic surveillance satellite program. Dozens of later missions flew Corona spacecraft on intelligence gathering missions.

A large number of Thor-Agena rockets flew between 1959 and 1972. The agena upper stage, as well as the Thor first stage, underwent a number of significant upgrades during this time. The last version, known as the Thorad Agena-D, used three Castor-2 solid rocket motors to profice additional liftoff thrust.

Thor-Agena Photos

Thor Agena rocket at the National Museum of the USAF . (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2008)

Thor Agena Thor Agena Thor Agena Thor Agena Thor Agena Thor Agena Thor Agena Engine Thor Agena Engine Thor Agena Engine Thor Agena Engine

Delta Rockets

Delta rockets evolved directly from the Thor family of rockets.

A large number of configurations have been flown. The information below only highlights some of the flown configurations.

Delta-B Rocket illustration

Delta A, Delta B, and Delta C

Delta A, B and C models were very similiar. Delta A flew twice in 1962, Lauching Explorer 14 and Explorer 15.

Delta-B was first flown on 12 December 1962. Delta-B rockets launched a number of early satellites, including Explore 17, Syncom 1 and 2, Telstar 2, and Tiros 7 and 8. Delta-B had eight sucessful launches and one failure.

Delta-C was first flown on 27 November 1963. Delta-C had twelve sucessful launches and one failure.

Delta-B Photos

Delta-B rocket at the Kennedy Space Center. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2009)

Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket Delta B Rocket

Delta-D Rocket illustration


Delta-D first flew on 19 August 1964, carrying the Syncom 3 satellite into orbit.

Another Delta-D launched in Intelsat payload on 6 April 1965.

Delta-E Rocket illustration


Delta-E was first flown on 6 November 1965. Delta-E payloads included several Explorer, Pioneer, and Intelsat satellites.

The highly sucessful Pioneer 6, 7, 8, and 9 missions were launched on Delta-E rockets.

Delta-M Rocket illustration


Delta-M first flew in 1968.

Delta-2914 Rocket illustration


The Delta-2914 used nine Castor-2 strap-on solid fuel engines.

Delta-2914 first flew on 13 April 1974.

Delta-3920 Rocket illustration


The Delta-3920 used nine Castor-4 strap-on solid fuel engines.

Delta-3920 first flew on 16 July 1982.

Delta II

Evolved directly from the earlier Thor and Delta rockets, the Delta II became one of the most reliable and frequently flown American rockets.

A large number of Delta-II configurations have flown. The following entries highlight only a few versions.

Delta-7326 Rocket illustration


Delta-7326 first flew on October 24, 1998. This configuration included three GEM-40 strap-on solid fuel engines.

Delta-7326 rockets flew three missions. Payloads included Deep Space 1, IMAGE, and the Genesis spacecraft.

Delta-7925 Rocket illustration


Delta-7425 first flew on 11 December 1998. This configuration included four GEM-40 strap-on solid fuel engines.

Delta-7425 rockets flew four missions. Payloads included Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO), Mars Polar Lander (MPL), Midex 2, and the CONTOUR spacecraft.

Delta-7426 Rocket illustration


This configuration included four GEM-40 strap-on solid fuel engines.

A Delta-7426 rocket launched the Stardust spacecraft on 7 Februry 1999.

Delta-7920H Rocket Delta-7920H-10 Rocket for GRAIL mission


The Delta-7920H configuration included nine GEM-46 strap-on solid fuel engines.

Three 7920H rockets have flown. The Spitzer space telescope (SIRTF) was launched on 15 August 2003. On 11 June 2008, a 7920H-10 rocket, launched the Fermi (GLAST) gamma-ray space telescope. On 10 September 2011, a 7920H-10 rocket, launched the GRAIL lunar mission (illustration at right). The "-10" added to the model number indicated the use of a larger payload fairing. All launches took place from SLC-17B at Cape Canaveral.

Delta-7925 Rocket illustration


Delta-7925 first flew on 26 November 1990. This configuration included nine GEM-40 strap-on solid fuel engines.

A large number of Navstar satellites were launched with the Delta-7925 configuration. Delta-7925 rockets also launched several science missions, including the Mars rover Spirit (MER-A), Mars Odyssey (MGM), Mars Global Surveyor (MGS), Mars Pathfinder, Deep Impact, and the Mars Phoenix spacecraft.

Delta-7925-8 Rocket illustration


A Delta-7925-8 rocket launched the NEAR spacecraft on 17 Februry 1996.

Delta-7925-10L Rocket illustration


A Delta-7925-10L rocket launched the Kepler spacecraft on 6 March 2009.

Delta-7925H Rocket illustration


Delta-7925 first flew on 8 July 2003. This configuration included nine GEM-46 strap-on solid fuel engines.

Delta-7925H rockets have launched three times. Payloads include the Mars rover Opportunity(MER-B), the MESSENGER mission to Mercury, and the Dawn spacecraft.

Delta III

Delta-3 Rocket illustration

Delta III (Delta-8930)

The Delta III, sometimes referred to as the Delta-8930, was developed in the late 1990's. The Delta III was designed to have a higher payload than existing Delta II rockets.

First Stage

The first stage was powered by an RS-27A main engine and two small vernier engines. Thrust was supplemented with nine GEM-46 solid rocket motors. Three of the SRMs were capable of thrust-vectoring to provide the rocket with additional directional control.

Second Stage

The Delta III second stage was powered by a cryogenically fueled Pratt & Whitney RL10B-2 rocket engine. The RL10B-2 was developed from the highly reliable RL-10 engine. Burning liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for fuel, the new second stage was much more powerful than previous Delta II second stages.

Payload Fairing

A new 4 meter payload fairing, matching the diameter of the new second stage, allowed much more space for payloads.

Delta III Flight History

Three Delta III rockets were launched. Unfortunately, the first two attempts failed. Only the third launch, with a dummy payload, was considered successful. All Delta III launch attempts occured from launch complex 17B at Cape Canaveral.

Although not successful as a satellite launcher, experience with the Delta III's cryogenic upper stage, and the new payload fairing, contributed to the new Delta IV rocket family.

Delta IV

The Delta IV family of rockets was developed as part of the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program (EELV).

East coast launches occur at complex 37B at Cape Canaveral. West coast launches are conducted at SLC-6 at Vandenberg Air Force Base.

First Stage

The Delta-IV family of rockets is built around a Common Booster Core (CBC). Delta-IV medium rockets use a single CBC, while the heavy version uses three CBCs. Each CBC is powered by a Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RS-68 rocket engine. The cryogenically fueled RS-68 uses liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propellants. Each core is 5.1 m in diameter and around 41 m long.

Second Stage

The second stage is powered by an RL-10B-2 rocket engine. This engine was first used on the Delta III second stage and is derived from the RL-10 engine.

Payload Fairing

Both 4 m or 5 m fairings are available.

Delta IV CBC (Common Booster Core) Photos

Delta IV CBC at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2009)

Delta IV RS-68 engine Delta IV RS-68 engine Delta IV CBC side Delta IV CBC Delta IV RS-68 engine Delta IV CBC Delta IV CBC detail Delta IV CBC front Delta IV CBC bottom view

Launch Complex 37 (LC-37)

Launch Complex 37 is currently the East coast launch pad for Delta-IV rockets. First built in the 1960's, Complex 37 was initially used to launch Saturn I and IB rockets. (Photos: Richard Kruse, 2009.)

Launch Complex 37 - Wide shot. Launch Complex 37 - Launch tower. Launch Complex 37 - Delta IV Launch Pad. Launch Complex 37 - Shelter. Launch Complex 37 - Shelter top.

Delta-4M Rocket illustration

Delta-IV Medium

The Delta-IV Medium rocket first flew on 11 March 2003. The launch took place at Cape Caneveral's launch complex 37B.

Delta-4 medium plus rocket illustration

Delta-IV Medium+

The Delta-IV Medium+ rocket comes in several versions. The Delta-IV Medium+ (4,2) version has a 4 m payload fairing and two, strap on, GEM-60 solid fuel engines. The Delta-IV Medium+ (5,4) version has a 5 m payload fairing and four GEM-60 solid fuel engines.

First flight of the Delta-IV Medium+ (4,2) version occured on 20 November 2002

First flight of the Delta-IV Medium+ (5,4) occured on 6 December 2009

Delta-4 Heavy Rocket illustration

Delta-IV Heavy

The Delta-IV Heavy rocket, with a first stage comprised of three common booster core units, first flew on 21 December 2004.

Rocket Enginies Used on Thor and Delta Rockets

S-3 (LR-79) Rocket Engine

The S-3 rocket was used on the Thor and Jupiter rockets. The military designation for the S-3 was LR-79.

S-3 engine on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force.

(Photos: Richard Kruse, 2007)

LR-79 Engine LR-79 Engine LR-79 LR-79 LR-79 Motor LR-79 LR-79 LR-79 Rocket

S-3 on display at the Udvar-Hazy Center.

(Photos: Richard Kruse, 2008)

S-3 Rocket overview S-3 Rocket thrust chamber S-3 Rocket side view S-3 Rocket fuel pumps S-3 Rocket

LR-101 Vernier Rocket Motor

Early Thor and Atlas rockets used two Rocketdyne LR-101 vernier engines to provide directional control.

LR-101 Vernier Rocket Motor at the Air Force Space and Missile Museum.

(Photos: Richard Kruse, 2008)

LR-101 vernier engine side view LR-101 vernier engine LR-101 vernier engine front view LR-101 vernier engine
Creative Commons License Images by Richard Kruse are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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