The Austin Company first became involved in Boeing’s Delta IV project when Boeing engaged The Austin Company to perform master planning and preliminary design for a facility that would manufacture the largest structural component of the Boeing Delta IV family of rockets, the common booster core (CBC).
In a spectacular evening launch on Wednesday, November 20, 2002, the first flight of the Boeing Delta IV family of rockets successfully delivered a telecommunications satellite into orbit. Major components of the rocket, including the common booster core, were manufactured in a facility designed, engineered and constructed by The Austin Company in a joint venture with J.S. Alberici Construction Company.
The Delta IV family of rockets is Boeing’s entrant into the U.S. Air Force’s (USAF) Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program (EELV). The EELV is aimed at reducing the cost of space launches through revamping rocket assembly, testing and launch processes. The USAF expects the program to save the U.S. government $10-billion in launch costs — a 50-percent savings compared to launching the same military payloads on other boosters.
The Austin Company first became involved in Boeing’s Delta IV project when Boeing engaged The Austin Company to perform master planning and preliminary design for a facility that would manufacture the largest structural component of the Boeing Delta IV family of rockets, the common booster core (CBC). “The challenge in the planning stage of the project was that Boeing had not yet selected a site for the new facility and had not yet finalized its plans for designing the new series of Delta rockets,” said a project manager for The Austin Company.
In response to these challenges, Austin provided designs with a great deal of flexibility and developed concepts for several different locations throughout the country. Upon completion of master planning and preliminary design, The Austin Company initiated engineering for long-lead procurements.
Once The Boeing Company selected Decatur as the project site and design-build as the project delivery method, The Austin Company was awarded final design and construction for the facility in joint venture with Alberici Constructors, Ltd. A demanding 26-month construction schedule was driven by The Boeing Company’s strategy for their next generation booster. This meant that every aspect of the project had to be done quickly and efficiently, which mirrored the way Boeing intended to manufacture the Delta IV rocket.
With site work well underway, it was determined that the most critical manufacturing areas would be located in the center of the building, therefore, the building would be constructed from the center out to the south and north simultaneously. An extensive tunnel system was installed prior to all other construction and provided for a safe exit and a location for routing utilities.
Construction was completed in late 1999. Initial production began in February 2000 and rocket manufacturing was in full-swing by September 2000. The first common booster core assembled at the new plant was unveiled at the dedication of the Decatur facility in October 2000.
Read more about this facility on Made in Alabama: United Launch Alliance Alabama Factory Turns Rocket Science into Rockets
About Boeing’s Delta IV Family of Rockets
The Delta IV family incorporates new and mature technology to launch virtually any size medium or heavy payload into space. It is composed of five vehicles based on a common booster core (CBC) first stage. In designing the five Delta IV configurations, Boeing conducted extensive discussions with government and commercial customers concerning their present and future launch requirements. Proven technical features and processes were carried over from earlier Delta vehicles to Delta IV. New technologies and processes were incorporated where they added capability or reduced cost.
The common booster core (CBC), manufactured at Boeing’s new Delta IV facility, is 125 feet in length and 16 feet in diameter — roughly the size of a Boeing wide-body airplane fuselage. Here the CBC is rolled out of the Delta IV factory in Decatur and is prepped for its voyage down the Tennessee River and through the Gulf of Mexico aboard the Delta Mariner to its destination in Cape Canaveral, Florida.