Monday, January 23, 2023

Vulcan Arrives at Kennedy Space Center

About eight days ago, we ran a story that United Launch Alliance had shipped their first Vulcan Centaur to the Kennedy Space Center to prepare for its maiden launch.  The cargo ship carrying it all arrived at Port Canaveral on Saturday, Jan 21 and was unloaded Sunday.  The shipment, all intended for the first flight, includes the Vulcan first stage as well as the interstage adapter and Centaur V upper stage. These were carried by truck across the cape to ULA facilities on the Cape for inspections and the start of launch preparations.  

The first stage of the Vulcan rolls out of "Rocket Ship" in the background.  ULA photo.

The booster measures 109.2 feet (33.3 meters) in length and 17.7 feet (5.4 meters) in diameter. Made of internal orthogrid aluminum construction to create a structurally stable stage, it is equipped with two BE-4 main engines, each producing approximately 550,000 pounds (2.45 mega-Newtons) of thrust to lift Vulcan out of the atmosphere on the way to orbit.

Two BE-4 engines obviously only provide 1.1 million pounds of thrust, which isn't enough for its desired mission envelopes.  With its added solid rocket boosters, the number dependent on the mission profile, the liftoff thrust can reach 3.8 million pounds.  

The interstage adapter, at right, intended to go between the booster and the Centaur V upper stage leads the Centaur V toward the ULA complex.  On the left, a payload fairing is visible, while between the Centaur and fairing the first stage is visible.  Also ULA photo.

Centaur V, with its pressure-stabilized stainless-steel tanks, is 38.5 feet (11.7 meters) in length and 17.7 feet (5.4 meters) in diameter. The cryogenic stage features two RL10C-1-1A engines, each producing 23,825 pounds (106 kilo-Newtons) of thrust to deliver the inaugural flight payloads to three different orbits: low Earth orbit, a high-energy orbit at nearly lunar distance, and an Earth escape orbit into interplanetary space.

The vehicle is expected to be fully ready for the first launch, a mission called Certification-1, intended to deliver two demonstration satellites for Amazon's Project Kuiper into low Earth orbit.  This is Amazon's approach to internet via space, like Starlink.  The mission will also place the Astrobotic Peregrine commercial lunar lander in a highly elliptical orbit more than 225,000 miles (360,000 km) above Earth to intercept the Moon, and carry a Celestis Memorial Spaceflight Payload beyond the Earth-Moon system to orbit the Sun forever.

As mentioned in the post last week, ULA doesn't guesstimate a No Earlier Than launch date, which is entirely reasonable given all the hurdles left to overcome.  Yes, Vulcan Centaur is a derivative of the Atlas V, but it's still a big collection of untested hardware.  NextSpaceflight continues to say NET February 25, and I continue to say Not Bloody Likely and stick with my reflexive call of mid-March at the earliest.  I'd be delighted to be proven wrong.  ULA has a pretty low launch cadence, but when they launch their vehicle performances have been solid.

1 comment:

  1. I saw the title, and there's not a single Star Trek/Leonard Nimoy joke in the comments?
    Kids today, I swear...