United Launch Alliance recently announced they are targeting to launch its new Vulcan rocket on Christmas Eve and are in the midst of final preparations.
The first stage of the Vulcan rocket was stacked onto the Vulcan Launch Platform on October 26th, with both GEM 63XL solid rocket side boosters installed on October 31st and November 6th.
SRBs Installed ✅
Centaur V Departure ✅
— ULA (@ulalaunch) November 7, 2023
This comes as the Centaur V 2nd stage was finished with reinforcements following an anomaly on a different Cenaur V earlier in the year on a test stand. ULA loaded up the reinforced Centaur V onto its R/S Rocket Ship, which is currently making its way down the Mississippi River and will arrive at Port Canaveral in the coming days.
With the announcement of the launch date, the rocket’s first payload, Astrobotics Peregrine lunar lander was shipped down to Florida for integration onto the 2nd stage adapter and eventual encapsulation in the fairing.
Once the 2nd stage arrives back in Florida, it will be attached to the Vulcan first stage and ULA will conduct a Wet Dress Rehearsal and then move the rocket back to the Vertical Integration Facility for the payload to be attached. The rocket already completed a successful static fire earlier this year, with a short firing of the BE-4 engines at Space Launch Complex 41.
— ULA (@ulalaunch) June 9, 2023
The debut launch of Vulcan has been a long time coming for United Launch Alliance as they make moves to catch up to SpaceX. ULA has been working toward multiple launch attempts over the past year, but with delays from Blue Origin and their BE-4 engines, they were forced to wait and then delayed even further due to the 2nd stage anomaly.
Those delays have caused 1 payload meant for the inaugural flight to be moved from the Vulcan to the Atlas V with Amazon’s Kuiper internet constellation satellite prototypes launching last month on the Atlas V and with all of the other Atlas V rockets being claimed by other payloads and the Delta IV Heavy retiring after its next two flights, ULA needs to ensure that the rocket performs flawlessly on the Certification 1 mission and is capable of launching National Security missions safely for the U.S. Government, its primary payload provider for the time being.
With all that being said, ULA is closer than ever to launching Vulcan this year after many, including myself, didn’t expect to see it fly until early 2024.
What do you think? Will Vulcan fly this year or be delayed into 2024?