Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Meanwhile, At the Vulcan-Centaur Preparations

Preparations for the Christmas Eve first flight of Vulcan Centaur are underway with no apparent major obstacles, so with 26 days left it appears to have a good chance of making it.  

The Centaur V upper stage for the inaugural United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket arrived from the factory at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station launch site on Nov. 13 and was integrated atop the booster on Nov. 19. 

Centaur V being hoisted atop the inaugural Vulcan rocket. Photo by United Launch Alliance 

The first Centaur V is topping the first Vulcan booster, for a launch scheduled for 1:49AM EST on Sunday, December 24, the first of two certification missions of Vulcan Centaur before it can begin to lift national security missions.  I can't speak for everyone, but I usually think of 1:49AM on Sunday as late Saturday night.  I guess the point is this "Christmas Eve" launch isn't "The Night Before Christmas"; it's the morning of the day before the night before.  The mission, called Cert-1, is carrying Astrobotic's Peregrine lunar lander for their first attempt to land on the Moon.  

“We have worked diligently to develop this evolutionary rocket and certify the first vehicle for flight,” said Mark Peller, ULA vice president of Vulcan Development. “This next generation launch vehicle incorporates new technology at all levels, powered by American ingenuity to meet our nation’s need for expanding space missions.”

The Cert-1 Centaur V will execute three firings of its dual RL10 engines to achieve three distinctly different orbits: a low Earth orbit, a highly elliptical orbit for lunar transfer and an interplanetary solar orbit into deep space.

Over the course of the next few weeks, the assembled rocket will undergo combined testing of sub-systems and components before rolling to Space Launch Complex-41 to undergo a Wet Dress Rehearsal to practice the countdown to launch.


  1. I think Astrobotics is desperate if they have their payload on the first flight of an untested rocket. Must have gotten a good price.

    1. It's self-contradicting.

      On one hand it's, "let's go with ULA, they've been around a long time and had hundreds of successful launches".

      On the other hand it's, "we should go with the old, established company like ULA and not those startups that aren't proven" like themselves.

    2. Well, the Starship/booster *is* extremely new, and the way SpaceX builds and tests you get a lotta bang/boom for your buck (initially), but Falcon and Falcon Heavy are rather well-vetted and reliable as hell.

      We'll see if Astrobotics roll of the dice pays off...

    3. It won't. Never have two BE4s fired at the same time under a real load. Test firing on stands, firing while holding down the rocket, that doesn't count. You can only simulate the actual turbulence of air, the interaction of the rocket with said air, the known and unknown vibrations that will build up in the launch vehicle as it flies. And the dreaded MaxQ.

      To risk a real payload rather than some test article (or a car) is just foolish. When SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy, they had already proven the Falcon 9 and the Merlin engines, all of the design work for launching, most of the issues known and unknown had already been discovered and fixed on F9 that could transition to FH.

      Complete new launch vehicle with untested engines? I don't know if you could get a Vegas bookie to give you decent odds.