Clearing the Path to First Flight: Expert Analysis – Ars Technica

United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Certification-1 first stage sits atop Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Florida for qualification testing.


United Launch Alliance is approaching the inaugural flight of the Vulcan rocket, aiming for the first flight on December 24.

During a media roundtable session, United Launch Alliance’s CEO, Tory Bruno, affirmed that Vulcan’s first flight is on a clear path. All the necessary qualification testing for the first flight is complete, including for the upper stage and the rocket’s main engines (BE-4s provided by Blue Origin).

In the following days, the Centaur upper stage will be integrated with the Vulcan first stage and will undergo a fueling test in December. The launch is scheduled for 1:49 am ET on Christmas Eve, with additional launch opportunities on December 25 and 26 if needed. The primary payload for this maiden mission is a lunar lander built by Astrobotic, set to make a soft touchdown on the Moon in early next year.

Building Up to Vulcan

Vulcan is the result of United Launch Alliance’s multi-year effort to develop a heavy lift rocket, addressing the need for more cost-competitive rockets and the congressional mandate to shift away from Russian engines. The rocket’s development has taken longer than anticipated, but with its imminent debut, focus is on the lunar lander mission and providing data to the military for future security missions.

Paving the Way for Missions

United Launch Alliance has already secured 70 Vulcan launches, balancing military and commercial flights. With Amazon’s Project Kuiper as a primary commercial customer, ULA aims to scale up production for a cadence of two launches per month by 2025.


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