- Parabolic Arc
- June 2, 2023
ULA Progresses Towards Purpose-Built Vulcan Centaur for National Security Space Missions
Centennial, Colo., April 8, 2019 (ULA PR) – Today, United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno gave an update on the continued progress of the Vulcan Centaur during a ULA media event at the 35th Space Symposium.
“As the nation faces growing threats in the space environment, ULA is unleashing the energy of American ingenuity by developing the Vulcan Centaur,” said Bruno. “Purpose built to meet our nation’s needs for expanding space missions, the Vulcan Centaur’s innovative technology is transforming the future of launch and will advance America’s superiority in space.”
ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets have been the backbone of American space launch for decades. Building on a progressive history of technology development and advancement, the Vulcan Centaur will advance this rich heritage.
“Manufacturing of Vulcan Centaur pathfinder and qualification hardware in the factory has been going on for nearly a year and just a few weeks ago, the team began to manufacture the first flight hardware,” said Bruno. “It is a tremendously exciting time as we watch the first flight vehicle being built.”
Panelists from key ULA suppliers including Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, Dynetics, L3 Technologies, Northrop Grumman and RUAG discussed their timeline, components, state-of-the-art technology and manufacturing techniques as they move forward building and testing hardware in advance of the Vulcan Centaur’s first flight in 2021.
“The strong team behind the Vulcan Centaur, including ULA’s supplier base, is proud to be building a rocket to launch critical American defense assets. Vulcan Centaur will provide higher performance and greater affordability while also continuing to deliver our unmatched reliability and precision,” said Bruno.
ULA is the nation’s only full-range launch provider and is significantly investing in and modernizing the factory in Decatur, Ala., and upgrading launch facilities to be more capable and flexible.
“When designing Vulcan Centaur, we took the best of Atlas and Delta and carried that over to our new rocket,” said Bruno. “In addition, many of Vulcan Centaur’s major components will be flown first on Atlas V missions such as the solid rocket boosters, avionics, software, upper-stage engine and payload fairings, lowering the risk of the first flight.”
With more than a century of combined heritage, ULA is the world’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered 133 satellites to orbit that provide Earth observation capabilities, enable global communications, unlock the mysteries of our solar system and support life-saving technology.
For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at www.ulalaunch.com, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321). Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/ulalaunch, twitter.com/ulalaunch and instagram.com/ulalaunch.
14 responses to “ULA Progresses Towards Purpose-Built Vulcan Centaur for National Security Space Missions”
Leave a Reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.
Speaking of commercial rockets that could be used for NASA missions, Vulcan should be ready and launching by 2024. 35 metric tons to LEO is significantly less than a Falcon Heavy, but it’s still pretty good (and might be upgrade-able).
When The initial totally expendable Vulcan variant get introduces into service depends on when the BE-4 become available. It is a pale version of the Vulcan ACES which the ULA parents might not funded.
However the metrics for how good a launcher is depends on payload mass deliverable to beyond LEO orbits and how much it cost per kilogram to that orbit. Since most of commercial and government payloads doesn’t go to LEO.
Unless ULA get a lot of future government launches it will no longer be a major launch provider. Blue Origin’s own New Glenn is likely to be cheaper than the Vulcan since they are going to reused the core. Commercial customers will likely flocked to the New Glenn for cost & capabilities when not using offerings from Hawthorne.
I suspect that ULA will be gone by end of 2024.
Assuming USAF goes through with its idiotic plans for an LSA down-select, ULA will be close to doom if it isn’t one of the two vendors selected. In that event, government money for Vulcan goes away and ULA’s only shot at long-term survival is to complete Vulcan on its own dime. That is a low-probability scenario.
But not a zero-probability scenario. Of ULA’s two parents, LockMart may want to keep ULA going so it can make more ICPS stages to sit behind Orions, be they ultimately launched on SLS, Falcon Heavy or both. Similarly, Boeing will still need rides for Starliner after Atlas V is gone, especially if Ted Cruz gets his wish and ISS is extended to 2030.
The potential fly in the Boeing ointment is that Vulcan only has to go forward if Atlas V goes entirely away. It doesn’t have to. Congress only term-limited the RD-180 for NatSec launches. ULA can still buy more for Starliner launches. If Boeing so decides – and I think that would be the percentage bet to make – then ULA would continue, in shrunken form, as a builder of ICPS for some indeterminate time, and of Atlas V until perhaps 2030. Assuming, of course, that Russia doesn’t embargo RD-180’s in the interim or – more likely – start shipping glitchy units.
Realistically, the LSA winners are almost certain to be ULA and SpaceX. USAF, I think, will figure – correctly – that Bezos isn’t going to fold New Glenn over a Lucy-and-the-football take-back of a mere half-billion bucks. So, as a practical matter, USAF gets three choices for the price of two – or one, really, as SpaceX got no LSA award.
That makes NGIS the virtually certain casualty here. With no LSA money, there will be no OmegA. With no Omega, NGIS has no future going forward except Antares-Cygnus until maybe 2030. It’s creaky collection of Frankenrockets, plus Pegasus, are, with one possible exception, too expensive to compete against Rocket Lab and the other smallsat launchers due to go operational over the next two or three years.
So both NGIS and ULA look good to go until 2030, though NGIS will be a niche player. After that, I think it’s certainly lights out for NGIS unless it has entirely switched emphasis to ICBM/SLBM production by then. ULA – especially if, as I strongly suspect, it is one of the two LSA phase 2 selectees – could eke out a shot at a future if it can get ACES up and running and capitalize on some of the opportunities that may afford anent lunar deep space operations in the second half of the 2020’s and beyond.
And, where ULA is concerned, there is always the possible scenario of Bezos simply buying Boeing and LockMart out and taking over ULA himself. In that case, I think Vulcan still goes forward, ACES happens too and BlueLA’s future is much as I’ve already described.
Assume that Vulcan is selected. Other than DoD, they will likely not get NASA or Commercial contracts. Why? COSTS. Now, they may get DoD contracts, but you have SX, BO, and likely Northrup in the mix as well. IOW, ULA is not going to get 100% of DoD contracts, but probably 1/2 down to 1/4. So, if they get say 6 launches / year, and now, their profit margins are no longer 150%, but down to a normal 10-20%, how will they survive?
Bezo buys Boeing or L-Mart, let alone AND? zero chance.
ULA’s Vulcan stands to get NASA contracts for ISS crew rotation missions as Vulcan will be Atlas V’s successor and Boeing’s Starliner needs some way to get there. That isn’t a path to robust commercial good future health for ULA, but it is a path to survival, at least, in combination with whatever piece of the LSA pie it gets.
I didn’t suggest Bezos would buy Boeing and LockMart – though given it’s recent troubles and plunging stock price, Bezos might soon be able to make a credible run at buying at least Boeing, and he is a Washington boy. But I suggested, rather, that Bezos might buy out Boeing and LockMart – i.e., take ULA off their mutual hands for a suitable price.
35 metric tons allows a fair sized payload plus a kicker stage. The kicker stage (or the Centaur) can be refuelled in orbit permitting the heavy payload to go to a much higher orbit.
On land different sizes of cargo can be transported in 1 ton payload vans through to 18 wheelers. NASA will soon have a choice of launch vehicles for its varying sized payloads.
I suspect that by the time that Vulcan launches, they will be competing against BFR, which will be a great deal cheaper, and obviously will lift a great deal more.
BFR is overkill for the types of payloads that Vulcan will be carrying, and I’m skeptical that it will be ready for launching payloads by 2024.
The customer don’t care if the ride is over-sized. All that matters is total launch cost and a launch opportunity in a reasonable amount of time with a reasonable chance of success.
The Super Heavy & Starship (BFR) is needed if SpaceX wants to deployed their Starlink Constellation fully.
It is overkill.
And yet, the real problem is that BFR will likely be cheaper than Vulcan. As such, why would military/NASA pay more to fly a load, when BFR may do it for a fraction of the money?
Esp, if SX is using say 1/2 of the space for launching their own Starlink?
NASA could use an SLS Block I to deploy a fully fueled (up to 68 tonnes of propellant) Centaur V to LEO. That would allow– commercial launch vehicles– to deploy and assemble the Gateway at LEO and then use the Centaur V to transport the Gateway to NRHO (Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit). So the deployment of the NRHO Gateway, under this scenario, would require– just one SLS launch– instead of five SLS launches.
NASA could also enhance the beyond LEO delta-v capability of the Orion/Service Module by replacing the ICPS with a Centaur V. Performance could be further enhanced if the Orion/Service Module and fueled Centaur V are launched to LEO– unmanned. NASA crews could then be shuttled to the orbiting Orion by using a Commercial Crew launch vehicle.
The thing that bothers me the most about Vulcan is the intent to use LC-41. You cannot just roll another support structure, because the fuel is different. If things do not go to plan… Reminds me about the gap between Shuttle and Orion. We were promised 3.. okay 5 year gap. Reality is 8 years and counting. I’m sure there were good reasons why they didn’t want to reuse Delta’s facilities and be stuck with them forever.