EELV is on track, but following delays the manufacturer now plans to fly first USAir Force satellite early next year

Boeing says it is on track to launch the first Delta IV evolved expendable launch vehicle (EELV) on 3 November, and denies reports that the delay is forcing the US Air Force to consider shifting to the recently tested Lockheed Martin Atlas V to launch its Defense Satellite Communications System (DSCS).

"The delays have not been impacting the programme significantly. So at this point, the US government has no plans to move DSCS off Delta IV...and it would have to be a significant event to move that," says Boeing Integrated Defense Systems launch and satellite systems business development vice-president Jim Simpson. Boeing says, however, that the DSCS launch will now be early next year, rather than in December as planned.

International Launch Services, which plans to launch the second Atlas V in December carrying a Telesat Canada satellite, says the DSCS mission could be inserted into its schedule around year-end if requested by the USAF.

Boeing says it is continuing to tackle software issues with the automated commands in the terminal countdown system, controlling the last 5min of the launch sequence to ignition. "The responses were not coming back instantly, but we've got 97% of it done," says Simpson. A fifth tanking test - in which propellants are loaded and pressurised - was scheduled for late last week. Pending the successful solution of the software problems and a positive tanking test, the Delta IV's engines will be ignited for a flight-readiness firing in "early October", says Simpson.

Despite the first launch delay, from April 2001, and the sluggish market, Boeing remains optimistic. "The bottom line is we're sold out in 2003," says Simpson, who adds that only a few slots remain in 2004. Although admitting "it is a brutal time from a commercial perspective", Simpson has 27 Delta IVs booked for launch up to 2007. This could be augmented with an extra two launches in 2004 if NASA elects to switch two payloads planned for Delta III boosters. The USAF is shortly expected to start a competition for its Block 2 EELVs which may also be rolled in with the Block 3 requirement, adds Simpson.

Source: Flight International