Press Release

NASA Selects United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy Rocket to Launch Solar Probe Plus Mission

By SpaceRef Editor
March 18, 2015
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NASA’s Launch Services Program announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) proven Delta IV Heavy vehicle to launch the Solar Probe Plus (SPP) mission to study the Sun’s outer atmosphere. This award resulted from a competitive procurement that considered multiple launch providers.

“The ULA team is very proud that NASA has selected the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle for this extraordinary science mission,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “The Delta IV Heavy rocket is uniquely qualified to provide the launch service for this vital science mission that will help us understand processes near the surface of the sun that affect space weather and radiation environments. We look forward to successfully delivering this critical spacecraft to orbit for NASA.”

The Solar Probe Plus mission is scheduled to launch in July 2018 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This mission will launch aboard a Delta IV Heavy, vehicle which features a center common booster core along with two strap-on common booster cores. Each common booster core is powered by the RS-68 cryogenic engine. An RL10 cryogenic engine will power the second stage. Due to the extremely high energy required for this mission, the Delta IV Heavy’s capability will be augmented by a powerful third stage provided by Orbital ATK, based on the flight proven Star-48 solid rocket motor. 

“ULA has considerable successful experience integrating third stages on top of our already capable vehicles,” Sponnick added.  “We did something very similar when we launched the New Horizons mission, which will fly by Pluto and its moons later this year.  We are proud to have Orbital ATK as our teammate for the development of the third stage for the SPP mission.”

Solar Probe Plus will repeatedly sample the near-Sun environment, revolutionizing our knowledge and understanding of coronal heating and of the origin and evolution of the solar wind and answering critical questions in heliophysics that have been ranked as top priorities for decades. The probe will make direct, in-situ measurements of the region where some of the most hazardous solar energetic particles are energized.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 90 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321). Join the conversation at and

SpaceRef staff editor.