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United Launch Alliance Successfully Test Fires Its Vulcan Rocket

United Launch Alliance (ULA) achieves a significant milestone with the successful test firing of its new Vulcan rocket.

The inaugural flight of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Rocket moves closer to reality as it successfully completes a Flight Readiness Firing (FRF).
The inaugural flight of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Rocket moves closer to reality as it successfully completes a Flight Readiness Firing (FRF). Credit: United Launch Alliance

The successful test firing of the new Vulcan rocket by United Launch Alliance marks a significant step forward in their preparation for the maiden launch of the rocket. The two Blue Origin-built BE-4 rocket engines were ignited for 6 seconds, bringing ULA closer to their launch plans. The company has stated that they are over 98 percent through the qualification program for the Vulcan rocket.

During the test firing, the BE-4 engines ignited at T-4.88 seconds and operated at 60% power for 2 seconds before powering down. The Vulcan Centaur rocket has faced several delays, including an anomaly with the Centaur V upper stage during qualification testing. ULA is currently investigating the cause of the anomaly and determining if changes need to be made to the flight article stacked on Vulcan.

Blue Origin had originally planned to deliver two flight-ready BE-4 engines to ULA by 2020, but delays pushed the delivery to late 2022. After integration onto the Vulcan rocket’s first stage, it was transported to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Ignition of the Blue Origin built BE-4 engines (Credit United Launch Alliance)

The successful Flight Readiness Firing (FRF) test sets the stage for the planned Summer launch of the Vulcan Centaur carrying Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar lander and Amazon’s first two Kuiper satellites. The Vulcan Centaur rocket needs to complete two successful launches to qualify for national security and government payloads, including the launch of Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser space plane.

The Vulcan Centaur rocket offers various configurations to accommodate different payload sizes, including the option to fly with 2, 4, or 6 solid rocket boosters. The maximum configuration with 6 SRBs provides a thrust of 3.8 million pounds. ULA is also working on its SMART re-use system, which aims to recover and refurbish the BE-4 engines for future missions.

The specific timeline for when ULA will begin utilizing the reusability capability has not been announced yet. With its flexibility and capabilities, the Vulcan Centaur rocket is poised to play a significant role in launching various payloads, including Amazon’s Kuiper satellite constellation and U.S. Space Force national security missions.

ULA’s successful test firing of the Vulcan rocket brings them one step closer to the highly anticipated launch of this new and powerful vehicle. The Vulcan Centaur rocket has been eagerly awaited as a key player in the space industry, offering enhanced capabilities and flexibility for a variety of missions.

With the BE-4 engines performing as expected during the test firing, ULA is now focused on reviewing data from the Flight Readiness Firing (FRF) and resolving the Centaur V anomaly investigation. Once these steps are completed, ULA will be able to finalize its launch plans for the Vulcan rocket.

The Vulcan Centaur has faced its share of challenges and delays, but ULA remains committed to delivering a reliable and efficient launch vehicle. The anomaly encountered during Centaur V qualification testing at the Marshall Space Flight Center prompted a thorough investigation. ULA has determined that the issue was related to the Centaur upper stage itself and is currently assessing whether any modifications need to be made to the flight article stacked on the Vulcan rocket.

Despite the setbacks, progress has been made with the integration of the Blue Origin-built BE-4 engines onto the Vulcan’s first stage. After a lengthy delay in engine delivery, the flight-ready engines were finally transported to the Vertical Integration Facility at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. This milestone marked an important step towards the upcoming launch of the Vulcan Centaur rocket.

The planned Summer launch, known as the CERT-1 flight, will carry Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar lander and Amazon’s first two Kuiper satellites. This mission holds significant importance as it will contribute to lunar exploration efforts and support Amazon’s vision for a satellite constellation similar to SpaceX’s Starlink.

In addition to the CERT-1 flight, the Vulcan Centaur rocket has a promising future with other high-profile missions. The second flight of the Vulcan Centaur is expected to include the launch of Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser space plane, which will play a vital role in resupplying the International Space Station. Furthermore, ULA aims to secure contracts for U.S. Space Force national security payloads, further establishing the Vulcan Centaur as a versatile and capable launch vehicle.

The Vulcan Centaur rocket offers multiple configurations to accommodate different payload sizes and mission requirements. From flying with two solid rocket boosters to a maximum configuration with six, the Vulcan Centaur can deliver significant thrust and payload capacity. Additionally, ULA’s ongoing work on the SMART re-use system demonstrates their commitment to advancing reusability in space launch operations.

As ULA moves forward with their Vulcan launch campaign, the industry eagerly awaits the debut of this powerful rocket. With its advanced capabilities, flexibility, and potential for reusability, the Vulcan Centaur is poised to make a significant impact on the future of space exploration and satellite deployment.

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