Delta 2 Lofts Italy’s Final Cosmo-SkyMed Satellite

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A Delta 2 rocket flying what could be the venerable U.S. launcher’s final commercial mission successfully delivered the last of Italy’s four Cosmo-SkyMed remote sensing satellites into low Earth orbit Nov. 5.

Liftoff occurred at 7:20 p.m. local time from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. Approximately 58 minutes later, the Delta 2 deployed its sole payload, a 1,900-kilogram radar satellite built by Thales Alenia Space Italia for the Italian Space Agency and Italian Ministry of Defence.

All four Cosmo-SkyMed satellites launched since Italy began deploying the surveillance and environmental-monitoring constellation in mid-2007 have gone up on Delta 2 rockets Thales Alenia Space booked through Boeing Launch Services, which markets Delta 2 to non-U.S. government customers.

Of the eight out-of-production Delta 2 rockets Denver-based United Launch Alliance (ULA) has in inventory, three are under contract to NASA for launches scheduled for 2011. ULA and Boeing are still looking for customers for the five remaining rockets.

“Boeing is working with ULA to assess both the commercial and government markets” for Delta 2, Boeing spokeswoman Susan Wells said Nov. 10, adding that the company still sees potential to fly the Delta 2 “beyond the three launches next year.”