The second flight of Boeing's Delta III from Cape Canaveral on 5 May failed to place its Orion 3 satellite into the correct transfer orbit, after a second-stage malfunction.

The planned 2min 40s second burn of the single Pratt and Whitney RL-10B-2 Centaur-type cryogenic engine did not take place, or cut off prematurely, stranding the Orion in a useless 1,380x163km orbit.

The Orion was to have been placed in a 25,717 x 185km geostationary transfer orbit, from which its own engine would have been fired to circularise the orbit to geostationary.

The first Delta III exploded during its launch last August. The loss of the Galaxy X satellite from the first Delta III launch cost $250 million, while the Orion 3 will sustain a $230 million loss.

The commercial prospects for the Delta III are now critical, despite the vehicle having a healthy orderbook of 16 Hughes and Loral satellites, which may now defect to other commercial launchers, such as the Ariane 4 or 5 and the Sea Launch.

The 5 May flight was the fifth attempt to launch the Delta III. The go-ahead had been given, despite concerns about the Centaur/RL-10 engine performance on the Titan 4B flight on 30 April.

Source: Flight International