After 29 years and 155 flights, United Launch Alliance retired the Delta II rocket. The final flight took place on September 15, 2018, delivering the NASA ICESat-2 satellite to orbit. Some notable payloads of Delta II are the Spirit and Opportunity Mars Rovers and most of the operational GPS satellites.

Originally developed by McDonnel Douglas in 1989 to be a light to medium class launcher. The rocket was a 2 stage design with an optional 3rd PAM-D stage, the same stage used by the Space Shuttle to launch its payloads into higher orbits. It was eventually retired by its current manufacturer, ULA, to make way for the more capable Atlas V and future Vulcan rockets.

Paying homage to the “Flying Tigers” of World War II, United Launch Alliance incorporated a shark design on the fairings. The spaceflight community quickly became entranced with the design. So, it’s no surprise fans started to ask whether the Delta II arriving at the Visitor Complex would sport the shark decals. On October 9, 2018, Tory Bruno confirmed the rocket on display would in fact have the shark design fairings.

Delta II Arrival at KSC

The final Delta II arrived at the Visitor Complex after receiving modifications for permanent display on February 26, 2021.

Just 5 days after the delivery, stacking operations began. This came as a surprise to many who were not expecting this rapid turnaround.

Delta II Stacking Operations

When I arrived at the Visitor Complex on March 4th, I first went to see the remaining section awaiting stacking. They have the pieces stored in one of their employee parking lots. Workers were in the process of prepping the sections for stacking operations.

Once inside the park, I proceeded to head over to the only vertical part of Delta II, which was already visible from most places within the park.

The bottom section of the Delta II First Stage

There didn’t appear to be much activity around the rocket at that time so I went on my way to enjoy the Visitor Complex. As I was wrapping up my day at the Heros and Legends exhibit I happened to see the second section of Delta II being transported to the display site.

A quick phone picture of the Delta II section being transported on a side road

I decided it would be worthwhile to stick around to see if they would raise the section before the park closed. Sure enough, they did.

With the second section raised, the partially completed Delta II now towers over most rockets in the garden. However, the second stage and fairing will be needed to become the tallest in the Rocket Garden.

Given the current pace of stacking, I wouldn’t be surprised if the operation is completed in the next week or two. It is currently unknown when the construction walls will be adjusted to allow for unobstructed viewing of the Delta II display, but it is possible it could be later in March.

Delta II Stacking Complete

Stacking operations were completed on March 5th. The Delta II is now, officially, the tallest rocket in the Rocket Garden at 128 feet (39 meters) tall.

All that remains is the addition of the Solid Rocket Boosters that surround the base of Delta II!

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