First Vulcan Launch Slips to 2021

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit: ULA)

SpaceNews reports the first launch of ULA’s new Vulcan booster will slip from 2020 to spring 2021.

During a panel discussion at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Symposium here Oct. 24, John Elbon, chief operating officer of ULA, said the company was making “good progress” on the vehicle, an effort aided by winning one of three Launch Service Agreement (LSA) awards from the U.S. Air Force Oct. 10.

“We’re making good progress on the development” of Vulcan, he said. “Our first certification flight is targeted for April of ’21. We were really excited about the results of the Air Force’s LSA procurement. We’re off and marching.”

As recently as last month, though, ULA said the first Vulcan launch was scheduled for 2020, a date the company had bene holding for some time. In a Sept. 27 release about its selection of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for Vulcan’s first stage, the company said the vehicle “is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020.”

Paul Allen Passes Away From Cancer at 65

Paul G. Allen (By Miles Harris – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=26491255)

Microsoft co-founder Paul G. Allen — who funded private spaceships, one of the largest aircraft in the world, and the search for life elsewhere in the Universe – has died of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He was 65.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the death of @PaulGAllen, our founder and noted technologist, philanthropist, community builder, conservationist, musician and supporter of the arts, All of us who worked with Paul feel an inexpressible loss today,” Allen’s company, Vulcan, Inc., announced in a tweet.

Allen poured the billions he made from Microsoft into a number of business and philanthropic ventures, including three space projects. He spent $28 million to back Burt Rutan’s entry in the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million competition for the first privately-built crewed vehicle to reach space twice within a two-week period.

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U.S. Air Force Awards Launcher Development Contracts to ULA, Blue Origin & Northrop Grumman

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit: ULA)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded contracts worth more than $2.2 billion for launch vehicle development to United Launch Alliance (ULA), Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman.

ULA of Centennial, Colo., will receive $967 million for the development of a launch system prototype of the Vulcan-Centaur booster. 

The agreement includes shared cost investment by ULA. The work is expected to be completed by March 31, 2025. 

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Northrop Gumman was awarded a contract worth $791,601,015 for development of the OmegA launch system. The company expects to to complete the work by Dec. 31, 2024. 

New Glenn is a reusable, vertical-landing booster with 3.85 million pounds of thrust, (Credit: Blue Origin)

Blue Origin has been awarded a $500 million contract for the development of the New Glenn launch system. The booster will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.  The work is expected to be completed by July 31, 2024.

ULA Selects Blue Origin BE-4 Engine for Vulcan Centaur Rocket

BE-4 engine firing (Credit: Blue Origin)

Centennial, Colo., Sept. 27, 2018 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) next-generation rocket – the Vulcan Centaur – is making strong progress in development and is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020. The Vulcan Centaur rocket design leverages the proven success of the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles while introducing advanced technologies and innovative features.

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Report: Blue Origin Wins Engine Contract for ULA’s Vulcan Booster

BE-4 staged combustion testing (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Wall Street Journal reports that Blue Origin has won a contract from United Launch Alliance to supply BE-4 engines for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle. An announcement is expected today.

The decision would be a defeat for Aerojet Rocketdyne, which has been developing the AR1 engine.

The long-term, potentially multibillion-dollar agreement could provide a boost to Blue Origin’s eventual goal of becoming a major military launch provider itself. The company plans to use the same engines to power its own heavy-lift launcher, called New Glenn, which is currently under development.

Competition in the satellite-launch business is heating up. The Air Force is considering how to divvy up hundreds of millions of federal dollars to develop a fleet of lower-cost, more versatile rockets. Blue Origin, United Launch, Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Innovation Systems unit, formerly known as Orbital ATK, are all in the running. The Air Force is preparing to shortly announce the first-stage winners….

Negotiations between United Launch and Blue Origin dragged on for months, with both sides bargaining hard over price, delivery schedules and production reliability. Other hurdles, according to two people familiar with the details, included United Launch’s concerns about relying on a prospective rival for its most important engine supply. It couldn’t be learned what provisions were hammered out.

Blue Origin beat out Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc., which had sought to sell its AR1 engine as the primary propulsion system for the Vulcan. A spokesman for Aerojet, which previously was picked to provide smaller, upper-stage engines for the ULA rocket, said “we are committed” to the AR1 engine and “will have a test-ready engine in 2019.” The spokesman also said that regardless of the decision, Aerojet’s “liquid engine business is thriving,” and the AR1 remains an option for possible smaller launch vehicles on the drawing board.

SpaceX to Launch Majority of 4,000 Starlink Satellites From Cape Canaveral

SpaceX Falcon 9 lifts off with a Dragon resupply ship on April 2, 2018. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The draft environmental assessment for SpaceX’s proposed expansion at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) also revealed that Elon Musk’s rocket company plans to most of more than 4,000 satellites of its planned Starlink constellation from Cape Canaveral.

That will guarantee a busy schedule for SpaceX’s Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at KSC and LC-40 at the adjoining Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). LC-39A can accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy boosters while LC-40 is configured for the Falcon 9.

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United Launch Alliance Selects Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 Engine for Next-generation Vulcan Centaur Upper Stage

Commerical Crew Program (CCP) astronauts visit Aerojet Rocketdyne to see engine test. (Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis)

CENTENNIAL, Colo., May 11, 2018 (ULA PR) – United Launch Alliance (ULA) today announced Aerojet Rocketdyne as a strategic partner for the RL10 upper stage engine for ULA’s next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket following a competitive procurement process.

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Non-Profit Group Bought XCOR’s Assets & IP

Message left on the XCOR engine test stand. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

On Friday, Space.com published a story I wrote about how Build A Plane had purchased XCOR’s assets for use in a school it wants to build down the road in Lancaster. The organization, which focuses on getting planes donated to schools, has launched a parallel program called Build A Rocket.

In addition to the physical assets, Build A Plane also gained control of XCOR’s intellectual property (IP). The IP of Rotary Rocket was included in the purchase.

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NASA Selects Advanced Manufacturing Projects for SBIR Contracts

NASA has selected four advanced manufacturing projects for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II program.

Ultratech Machinery, Made in Space, Supercool Metals and Intelligent Optical Systems were selected for two-year contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece. Each company received funding for its project under the first phase of the SBIR program.

Ultratech Machinery is being funded to develop a multi-material, ultrasonic additive manufacturing (3D printing) laboratory for use aboard the International Space Station (ISS).

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Made in Space Selected for 2 NASA SBIR Awards

NASA has selected two proposals from Made in Space focused on producing advanced crystals and high-strength components for funding under the space agency’s Small Business Innovation Research program. Each two-year Phase II is worth up to $750,000.

The Industrial Crystallization Facility (ICF) would produce “nonlinear optical single crystals and other relatively large material formulations, such as bulk single-crystal thin films and high temperature optical fiber,” according to the proposal.

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ULA Selects L3 Technologies for Vulcan Centaur Avionics

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)

Centennial, Colo., Dec. 4, 2017 (ULA PR)– L3 Technologies announced today that it has entered into an agreement with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to become the exclusive provider of avionics and related services for its new Vulcan Centaur rocket system, delivering an estimated $1 billion-plus in mission-critical systems and services, over a 10-year period.

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Bigelow, ULA Announce Plans for Lunar Depot

Bigelow B330 lunar depot with ULA ACES space tug. (Credit: Bigelow Aerospace)

Las Vegas, NV and Centennial, Colo., Oct. 17, 2017 (ULA/Bigelow Aerospace PR) – Bigelow Aerospace and United Launch Alliance (ULA) are working together to launch a B330 expandable module on ULA’s Vulcan launch vehicle.  The launch would place a B330 outfitted module in Low Lunar Orbit by the end of 2022 to serve as a lunar depot.

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USAF Issues RFP for New Launch Vehicles

The U.S. Air Force issued a request for proposals (RFP) last Thursday for a new launch vehicle to handle national security space (NSS) requirements.

“The goal of the EELV acquisition strategy is to leverage commercial launch solutions in order to have at least two domestic, commercial launch service providers that also meet NSS requirements, including the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads,” the proposal states.

“The Launch Service Agreements (LSAs) facilitate development of at least three EELV Launch System prototypes as early as possible, allowing those launch systems to mature prior to a future selection of two NSS launch service providers for Phase 2 launch service procurements, starting in FY20,” the proposal adds.
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ULA, Dynetics Plan Investments in Decatur

Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)

ULA and Dynetics are planning investments in Decatur, Ala. to gear up for production of the new Vulcan launch vehicle.

ULA’s proposed project requires capital investment for new technology and infrastructure for the production of the new Vulcan thrust structure assembly, which is ULA’s next generation launch system. Beginning in August 2017, the project’s total capital investment is approximately $115.6 million. ULA’s project is expected to be completed by December 31, 2020 and will help secure the employment of approximately 620 existing employees with an estimated annual payroll of around $43 million before benefits.

Dynetics presented their plans to construct the second building of an aerospace structures complex adjacent to ULA, to support development and structural testing of launch vehicles and large aerospace structures. The capital investment for the project is estimated to be $7,4. Million and is expected to create 15 new jobs within one year with an estimated annual payroll of $1 million before benefits.

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Trump Administration Objects to Defense Bill Provisions on Space Corps, EELV Development


The Trump Administration and the House Armed Services Committee are on a collision course over four space- and rocket-related provisions in the fNational Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2018 (FY 2018).

Specifically, the administration is objecting to the following provisions:

  • the establishment of a separate space corps within the U.S. Air Force (USAF);
  • limitations on the funding of new rocket engines for the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program;
  • a prohibition on the Pentagon procurement of transponder services on commercial satellites launched on Russian rockets; and,
  • requirements that the Defense Department find multiple suppliers for individual components of solid rocket missile systems.

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