Vulcan Centaur ready for test launch

United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket is almost ready for its first test launch after undergoing numerous tests

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is preparing for a test launch of its next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket following a recent reference test. On Monday, May 22, the company announced on Twitter (ref.) that the new rocket was returning to the Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Now that the rocket has returned to the platform, the static fire test could occur at any time. “We are already aiming for the Flight Readiness Firing tomorrow, but it will depend on many other factors” a ULA representative said on Tuesday.

State-of-the-art of the new ULA rocket

If all goes according to plan and the static fire and general tests proceed smoothly, the first test launch of Vulcan Centaur will be its next milestone. CEO Bruno previously indicated June or July as the likely first launch date for the rocket, with launch windows of 4 to 5 days per month.

ULA successfully completed a tanking test on the company’s new rocket on May 12, filling the rocket with over one million pounds of fuel during the test. ULA engineers then evaluated the test results against the design expectations.

Two days after the tanking success, the company reported that the tests were “good”. But that the teams would make some parameter adjustments before the Vulcan static fire. The rocket’s main BE-4 booster engines use liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquid oxygen as fuel and will be capable of producing over half a million pounds of thrust at liftoff. The RL10 engines of the Centaur V second stage are powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

Rocket data and future plans

The 62-meter-tall Vulcan Centaur will be able to lift 7.7 metric tons of payload into geostationary orbit, at 36,000 km above Earth. The rocket has been designed to replace ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles that have been in service for two decades.

NASA has already added the Vulcan rocket to its range of space launch vehicles for future missions. Amazon has also contracted ULA for 38 Vulcan launches to support the deployment of its Project Kuiper satellite communication constellation.

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