Sunday, December 10, 2023

ULA: Vulcan Centaur “Likely” Out to January

It's looking like the Christmas Eve first flight of ULA's Vulcan Centaur is not going to make it.  Since it's very short launch window just before the full moon, that means a shift to January. 

The launch company's chief executive, Tory Bruno, announced the delay on the social media site X on Sunday. United Launch Alliance had been working toward a debut flight of the lift booster on Christmas Eve, from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

Bruno made the announcement after the company attempted to complete a fueling test of the entire rocket, known as a wet dress rehearsal.

I took the liberty of screen-capturing the tweet - for posterity, you understand.

Now you know how I hate to be the Ackshually guy, but January 8 surprises me. At some point I read and relayed that the reason for the short window of three days, December 24 - 26, was for the trajectory of the main payload on this flight, the Astrobotics Peregrine lunar lander and the days of the launch window were dependent on the phase of the moon.  The full moon in December is the 26th, while the January full moon is the 25th. That implies the same trajectory would be available Jan 23 - 25. 

Clearly one of us is mistaken.  

A side light to this little episode is the "race" to be the first private company to land on the moon between Astrobotics, with their Peregrine on the Vulcan vs. Intuitive Machines with their IM-1 Lunar Lander.  The last info I have on the IM-1 is that it was scheduled to launch on a Falcon 9 in a “multi-day” window that opens Jan. 12 from the KSC’s Launch Complex 39A.  That checks out tonight at's SpaceX manifest.  If January 8 slips to the 11th, we could have a literal race to the moon.

An unrelated point to bear in mind is that pushing the Vulcan's Cert-1 mission into '24 means ULA will have made only three launches all year, their lowest number of launches in their history.  Three launches in a week isn't uncommon at all for SpaceX this year and Eric Berger at Ars Technica points out that on a handful of occasions SpaceX has launched three rockets in three days this year.


  1. Elon outperforming ULA? This is my shocked face.

  2. Sad to say, I totally expected this. And I don't think Vulcan is launching until at least March 2024.

    1. What say you, then, about SLS?

    2. NASA says November 8, 2024. I say not before mid 2025, if not cancelled outright by then.

    3. While SLS needs to die, since it's currently built (or being finished), I'm going to engage in the Sunk Cost Fallacy and say they should use it. Since this one doesn't actually DO anything except fly by the moon, it's not dependent on Starship and the HLS.

      The whole Artemis program and approach they've put together is way over complicated. A lunar orbiting space station (I like the acronym LOSS) they call Gateway, shuttling back and forth between the LOSS and the moon, NRHOs, the whole thing. It seems the only reason was to not have to build a Saturn V class vehicle. Yeah, I know they say the real reason is the "we're going back to stay" part of the Artemis mythos.

      Over complicated, but they're so committed, just cancelling the program and starting over says no lunar trip until the '30s. Unless certain private companies do it on their own.

      I'm leaning toward the idea that our economic collapse wipes out any government programs like Artemis.

  3. Speaking of those certain private companies, last night's launch of the Falcon Heavy carrying the X-37B orbiter was cancelled due to a cold front going through. The worst of it was about an hour before launch, when fueling would be going on.

    It has been rescheduled for tonight at 8:14 PM, which means we have two launches tonight. There's a Falcon 9 Starlink launch just under three hours later, as currently scheduled.

  4. Hasn't NASA ever heard of the Aldrin Lunar Cycler??