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Launch Vehicle

Summary | Stage I | Solid Rocket Motors | Payload Fairing | Stage II | Stage III

drawing of the four stages of a launch vehicleA launch vehicle provides the velocity needed by a spacecraft to escape Earth's gravity and set it on its course for Mars.

Read more about the launch vehicle on these pages.

Rovers Launched on Delta IIs

When mission planners are considering different launch vehicles, what they take into consideration is how much mass each launch vehicle can lift into space. The Boeing Delta II launch vehicle was selected for the Mars Exploration Rover mission because it has the right liftoff capability for the weight requirements and because it's extremely reliable.

The Delta II family of launch vehicles has been in service for over 10 years and has successfully launched 90 projects including the last six NASA missions to Mars: Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Pathfinder in 1996, Mars Climate Orbiter in 1998, Mars Polar Lander in 1999, Mars Odyssey in 2001, and Phoenix Mars Lander in 2007.

Details on the Launch Vehicle

Deltas are expendable launch vehicles (ELVs), which means they are only used once.

The Rover A mission used a standard Delta II 7925 when it launched June 10, 2003. The later Rover B launch on July 7, 2003 needed more energy to get to Mars, so it launched on a Delta II 7925H, where "H" stands for "Heavy." Learn about the launch vehicle differences and the reasons for them.

The major elements of the Delta Rockets for the MER missions, however, are nearly identical. Each launch vehicle consists of:

drawing of stage one, fuel and oxygen tanks Stage I: Fuel and oxygen tanks that feed an engine for the ascent
drawing of solid rocket motors Solid Rocket Motors: Used to increase engine thrust; 9 total, 6 of which are lit at liftoff, 3 a minute into flight
drawing of payload firing Payload Fairing: Thin metal shroud or nose cone to protect the spacecraft during the ascent through Earth's atmosphere
drawing of stage two, fuel and oxidizer Stage II: Fuel and oxidizer and the vehicle's "brains"; fires twice, once to insert the vehicle-spacecraft stack into low Earth orbit and then again to orient the third stage prior to it firing
drawing of stage three, solid rocket motor Stage III: Solid rocket motor provides the majority of the velocity change needed to leave Earth orbit and inject the spacecraft on a trajectory to Mars; connected to the spacecraft until done firing, then separates
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