Atlas V replacement: ULA announced the date of the first flight of the Vulcan rocket

The ULA launch operator (a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin) announced the date of the first certification flight of the Vulcan rocket. It is scheduled for December 24.

Main characteristics of Vulcan

Vulcan development began in 2014. After Russia’s invasion of Crimea, the US government decided to get rid of the dependence associated with Russian RD-180 engines. These engines are used on the first stage of the Atlas V rocket for national security purposes. It was decided to create a new carrier for this purpose, called Vulcan.

Vulcan rocket (concept). Source: ULA

The Vulcan rocket has a two-stage design, with the possibility of adding side solid-fuel boosters. Its height is 60 meters, and its diameter is 5.4 meters. In its most powerful configuration, the rocket will be able to launch up to 27 tons into low Earth orbit.

The Vulcan’s first stage is equipped with two BE-4 engines designed by Blue Origin. They use methane as fuel and liquid oxygen as an oxidizer. The second stage is equipped with a pair of oxygen-hydrogen engines RL-10.

Date of Vulcan’s first flight

At the time of the announcement of the project, the first launch of Vulcan was scheduled for 2020. But later, it repeatedly shifted. One of the reasons for the postponements were problems with the development of the BE-4 engine. It was only at the end of 2022 that Blue Origin finally delivered a batch of flight-certified powertrains, which made it possible to begin preparations for launch. In February 2023, engineers completed the assembly of the first instance of Vulcan. This made it possible to make a formal announcement about the date of the first flight of the rocket. It was planned to launch in May. 

Burning of the first stage of the Vulcan rocket. Source: ULA

But Vulcan did not fly anywhere. On March 29, during the test of the second stage of the rocket, a hydrogen leak occurred. It flared up, which led to damage to both the stage and the test stand. As a result, ULA had to replace the stage as well as make changes to the design of the rocket, which took several months.

But now the work on the mistakes has finally been completed. In a recent interview, Tony Bruno, chief executive of ULA, announced the launch date of the rocket. It is scheduled for December 24.

The choice of this date is due to the requirements imposed by the payload. The main cargo on board Vulcan will be the Peregrine spacecraft, which should land on the Moon. The window for its launch will be open from December 24 to December 26. If the rocket fails to launch within these deadlines, the next opportunity will appear in January. In addition to Peregrine, Vulcan will also carry a capsule with the ashes of people from Celestis. It will remain attached to the second stage of the rocket and subsequently burn up with it in the atmosphere.

According to

Follow us on Twitter to get the most interesting space news in time