Saturday, July 2, 2022

Small, Short, Space Story Roundup Again

The Artemis vehicle, also known as the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft, the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft are back in the Vehicle Assembly Building as of this afternoon.  

The combination started the four-mile journey from launch pad 39B at 4:12 a.m. EDT this morning (July 2) and was fully secured in the VAB at approximately 2:30 PM.

Over the next several days, the team will extend work platforms to allow access to SLS and Orion. In the coming weeks, teams will replace a seal on the quick disconnect of the tail service mast umbilical and perform additional checkouts and activities before returning to the pad for launch.

Will ULA's Vulcan rocket launch this year?  US Space Force acquisition executive Frank Calvelli is giving that impression.  He says it's what he has been told, but I have to wonder if he has been told what they think he wants to hear.  Most of you will know instantly that the Vulcan has been held up by the difficulties that Blue Origin has had delivering the BE-4 methane/oxygen (methalox) engines for Vulcan.  The way I read the story is that Calvelli is making the trip to visit ULA and Blue in order to put some pressure on them to "get 'er done." 

Calvelli, who has been on the job for less than two months, told reporters at the Pentagon June 28 that he is aware of the delays in the development of Vulcan’s main engine, Blue Origin’s BE-4, and that is why he decided to put ULA and Blue Origin on this travel schedule sooner rather than later. 

“One of the first industry visits I want to make is down there to make sure they understand the importance of hitting their milestones with that engine delivery as well as with the launch,” Calvelli said.

It sounds to me like, “do you guys think you're working too much overtime now?  You're going to do 'whatever it takes' to get that launch off before the end of the year.”  ULA's Tory Bruno has said that the two flight certified engines will be delivered this summer and the first Vulcan launch will be before the end of the year, so that's where Calvelli is getting his information from.  

The story of the BE-4 not performing as they're supposed to has been covered here pretty thoroughly, as ULA's problems.  The Vulcan is to replace the Atlas V, not because the Atlas V is particularly bad, but because it's dependent on Russian RD-180 engines and congress has forbidden the purchase of Russian engines.  ULA has said they have enough inventory to finish their scheduled Atlas V launches but then has to move over to the Vulcan. Then we learned that ULA had won a big contract from Amazon to launch the Kuiper broadband constellation increasing the urgency for the company to start transitioning to Vulcan and flying on a domestically produced engine.

I'd say that Calvelli doesn't try to be too intimidating, but then he concluded with this:

At this point Calvelli said he has no specific concerns about the program but believes it’s important enough to merit a visit. “I just want them to recognize that there’s somebody new in town, and that this is really important to me.”

With all due respect, I think that saying it will launch before the end of the year isn't very realistic.  (Note: "with all due respect" is syntactically the same as "bless his heart" in Southern.)

That story ties in with the last one.  The US Space Force has its launch providers for national security payloads locked up through 2027: it previously selected ULA (United Launch Alliance) and SpaceX for that purpose.  Reports are starting to surface that the industry is starting to organize lobbying efforts for the next phase, Phase 3, of the National Security Space Launch program.  The Space Force plans to open bidding in fiscal year 2024, the publication says. 

ULA seeks to block the way...One of the biggest tensions concerns the extent to which the Space Force will seek to broaden the pool of potential applicants. Incumbent United Launch Alliance has drafted a letter, now signed by more than two dozen US House members, that encourages the Space Force to require launch providers to "meet all critical mission requirements." This would effectively limit the contest to those companies with large, “high energy” rockets. Other legislators are seeking to make the launch competition more accessible to new entrants.

ULA's view is obvious; their Vulcan Centaur is one of those “high energy” rockets.  SpaceX has the heavier-lift Falcon Heavy and the "even heavier lift than that" Starship coming on line.  I don't see SpaceX fighting this, although I may be wrong here.  The rocket industry is going through a rebirth like we've never seen with new vehicles and even new methods appearing regularly (two examples out of several).  If those new companies and platforms can lift important but smaller security payloads, why insist they go a on much bigger vehicle?  Especially if most of that vehicle gets thrown away.

Vulcan Centaur, rendering from the ULA Vulcan Page.



  1. Most Of The Vehicle Gets Thrown Away = Long Term Employment In Critical Voting Districts.

    Or just Pure Pork....

    1. Oh, yeah. The entire contracting structure works that way. Contracts get split between voting districts around the country so that enough votes to keep the gravy train running are assured.

      Expendable launch vehicles made more sense in the 1950s than they do now. Everything was far more experimental in those days.


    2. "Expendable launch vehicles made more sense in the 1950s than they do now. Everything was far more experimental in those days."

      Not to mention the improvements in technology and engineering, including the materials used. For example, no vacuum tubes. :-) Although the old acorn tubes were kind of cute.

  2. Gee, suuuuuure would be simple if ULA would buy some "slightly used" Raptor V1's from SpaceX... I mean, they're tested AND available.
    Nah - makes too much sense. Never happen, right?