It is likely that Vulcan will not launch again until fall

After the impressive debut of the Vulcan rocket in January, it is unclear when the heavy lift vehicle will fly again.
United Launch Alliance, which assembles and launches the Vulcan rocket, has long maintained that it would launch the Dream Chaser spacecraft for Sierra Space on the rocket’s second mission.
Chasing Dreams After a long development period, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser vehicle is making credible progress toward the launch pad.
United Launch Alliance Vice President Gary Wentz said the earliest opportunity to launch the Cert-2 mission was “April-ish.”
“The pacing item in our supply chain is the BE-4,” United Launch Alliance chief executive Tory Bruno said about Vulcan during a conference call with reporters in March.
United Launch Alliance did not respond to a request for comment for this story about the Vulcan rocket’s readiness or a potential shuffling of the launch manifest.
A source said the company is willing to wait until September to launch Dream Chaser.
Previously, Col. Douglas Pentecost of the Space Force said United Launch Alliance had chosen the Vulcan certification path requiring the least amount of launches: two.


It’s unclear when the heavy lift vehicle will take to the skies again following the Vulcan rocket’s spectacular debut in January. The rocket’s readiness and—possibly more importantly—what will launch on top of it are the two main causes of the uncertainty.

The company that assembles and launches the Vulcan rocket, United Launch Alliance, has long insisted that on the rocket’s second flight, it will launch the Dream Chaser spacecraft for Sierra Space. The rocket company would then be able to gather sufficient data regarding Vulcan’s performance to obtain certification for use with national security payloads.

The names the company chose for the first two launches, Cert-1 and Cert-2, are indicative of the importance the company has placed on obtaining certification from the Space Force, as launching military payloads is the main reason for Vulcan’s existence.

However, in the increasingly likely event that the payload is not prepared for Cert-2, what would happen?

Reaching for Dreams.

The Dream Chaser spacecraft from Sierra Space is approaching the launch pad with noticeable progress after a protracted development phase. Environmental testing, including vibration testing, is currently being conducted on it at a NASA facility located in Ohio.

September is currently listed as the “planning” date for NASA’s Dream Chaser mission, which is intended to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. This schedule is kept internally within the agency. This date is subject to change and is not set in stone.

To be honest, the space agency is skeptical of a fall launch. One source claims that there were major discrepancies in the schedule Sierra Space officials provided NASA with during a recent meeting to integrate planning for space station operations.

Dream Chaser may not be prepared for launch until 2025, at which point its journey will be governed by the schedule of the space station, which needs to juggle the arrival of crew and cargo ships from SpaceX, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Russia.

Early flight is what Vulcan desires.

In order to get out of the certification process and start executing contracted missions for the US Space Force, United Launch Alliance would very much like to fly the Vulcan rocket sooner. The company was leaving open the possibility of a spring launch immediately following the January 8 launch of the Astrobotic lunar lander as part of the Cert-1 mission.

The business intended to review the data from the “Cert-1” certification mission over the course of sixty days. Should the data from that flight appear satisfactory, the plan was to proceed with the next launch’s preparations. The earliest opportunity to launch the Cert-2 mission is “April-ish,” according to United Launch Alliance Vice President Gary Wentz. “.

That timeline turned out to be optimistic, as is typical in the launch industry. But a midsummer target seems reasonable for the rocket’s readiness, considering that Vulcan seemed to perform extremely well on its first launch. That gives the core stage, which is still devoid of engines, three or four months to finish production.

During a conference call with reporters in March, Tory Bruno, the CEO of United Launch Alliance, stated that the BE-4 is the “pacing item in our supply chain” with regard to Vulcan. Blue Origin produces the two BE-4 rocket engines that drive Vulcan’s first stage. “Because it took a little longer to develop and finish, the BE-4 is a little bit behind everyone else. It’s currently. The BE-4 factory in Huntsville, which was recently constructed and expanded—literally doubled in size—offers us fantastic facilities. Consequently, they must now catch up to all others in terms of progress. “.”.

Regarding the Vulcan rocket’s readiness or a possible reorganization of the launch manifest, United Launch Alliance did not reply to a request for comment for this story. The company is prepared to hold off on launching Dream Chaser until September, according to a source. If the car isn’t prepared by then, though, Vulcan will probably look for other options.

one-time authorization.

According to two sources, United Launch Alliance requested at least a partial certification of Vulcan based on data from its first launch from Space Systems Command, the Los Angeles-based organization in charge of military access to space. It is possible that this would enable Vulcan to transport Defense Innovation Unit payloads, like the DarkSky-1 mission from Blue Origin, or payloads related to national security during its second flight.

When Ars questioned about an accelerated certification process, a representative for Space Systems Command declined to comment.

Before that, Col. United Launch Alliance selected the Vulcan certification path, which requires the fewest number of launches—two—according to Space Force Douglas Pentecost. On the other hand, Blue Origin has consented to a certification process that entails three flights, resulting in reduced paperwork. In addition, there are options for six and even fourteen flights for certification. The latter option basically certifies your rocket after 14 successful flights.

However, a single-flight certification has been done before. Following its maiden launch in February of that year, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket was certified by the Air Force in 2018. Because of the controversy surrounding that decision, the Department of Defense Inspector General conducted a review and concluded that the military had “generally complied” with its procurement regulations.

It is noteworthy, however, that on its next two flights, the Falcon Heavy carried no military cargo. Looks like the first certification was subject to the next two commercial missions’ success.

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