After many successful launches with the Delta II, ULA made the Delta IV rocket orange. What's the reason for this strange color change?

Also the Atlas V's first stage is orange, is there any specific reason that launch providers like coloring their rockets a specific color?

After all, it seems expensive to paint a whole rocket which will be discarded after a single launch. If the bright color is for tracking the rockets, why not use a paint scheme like the Saturn rockets had?

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This picture shows the Delta rocket evolution, and shows the Delta IV in blue. What's with the sudden color change?

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    $\begingroup$ The Space Shuttle had an expendable external LH2/LOX tank which was covered in a sprayed-on foam insulation and originally painted white. After the first few launches, subsequent tanks were left unpainted to save weight and appeared orange due to the natural color of the insulating foam. Shuttle experience was likely transferred to other launch systems i.e. expendable cryopropellant tanks covered in foam insulation have no real need to be painted so appear in their natural color, which happens to be orange. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony X
    Commented May 8, 2017 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ Related: space.stackexchange.com/questions/2449/… $\endgroup$ Commented May 8, 2017 at 21:34

1 Answer 1


From perusing online, it seems there's a consensus that the insulating foam is just that color. They painted the Delta II, but stopped painting due to the added weight. As to why they painted the Delta II (and Saturns), I believe it is for protection against UV. They probably solved the UV issue, and thus opted for the lower weight for the Delta IV.

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    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble 's answer here discusses orange insulating foam and is worth reading. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented May 9, 2017 at 2:55
  • $\begingroup$ Discussion of Atlas-V in answers to Was New Horizons launched on a copper rocket? suggest that it's not orange insulation. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Commented Nov 2, 2020 at 23:21

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