The Boeing Delta III could be replaced by the Delta IV medium version of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) as early as 2001, according to Boeing sources. The earlier-than-expected replacement date follows two launch failures by Boeing Delta IIIs this year.

Boeing admits underestimating the technological challenge of developing the Delta III, and is finding it difficult to overcome the technical problems which caused the failures. A third Delta III is set to launch an ICO Global Communications satellite in March, but this is likely to be delayed further.

Assuming that more than one launch is completed next year, some of the Delta III's remaining 15 launch contracts could be carried over to the Delta IV. The Delta IV has notched up 30 orders from the US Air Force, which funded the original EELV work, and Space Systems Loral.

Boeing is expected to lay on a demonstration flight of the commercial Delta IV before committing to commercial launches.

Source: Flight International