January 24, 2011:
Nine years after its first launch, the American Delta IV heavy launcher was recently used for the 15th time, and the first time on the west coast of the United States. The Delta IV has had a 93 percent success rate (one failure in 15 launches).
The Delta IV is a modular system, allowing engine and fuel tank parts to be configured to launch satellites of 5 to 14 tons. One of the features of the Delta IV is a second stage that can put itself into orbit and restart its engine for precise placement of satellites. Launch cost is $10 million to $20 million per ton of payload. This is expensive for commercial satellites, but the Delta IV is one of the few rockets that can put up larger and heavier military satellites, so most of its work has come from the Department of Defense. The Delta IV was built to take up some of the slack created by the end of the Space Shuttle program. The Space Shuttle is the most expensive way to get stuff into orbit. Satellites sent up via the Shuttle cost $25 million a ton. Moreover, while the max payload of the Delta IV is 15 tons, the Space Shuttle could lift up to 24 tons. Despite those differences, new satellites can be designed to go up via the expendable 700 ton Delta IV, rather than in the more spacious, reuseable and expensive, 2,000 ton Space Shuttle.