from the Pareto-Principle dept.
A joint venture between Boeing Co and Lockheed Martin Corp will conduct the final design review for its new flagship Vulcan rocket within months, it said on Wednesday, as the aerospace company heads for a showdown with Elon Musk's SpaceX and others in the launch services market.
The final design review is a crucial milestone as the company, United Launch Alliance (ULA), tries to move into full production ahead of a first flight in spring 2021 after slipping from its initial 2019 timetable.
"The design is nearly fully mature," ULA systems test engineer Dane Drefke told Reuters during a tour of Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
[...] ULA has started cutting and building hardware and has begun structural and pressure testing at its Decatur, Alabama factory. Engineers were also modifying the Florida launch pad and tower to accommodate Vulcan.
Previously: SpaceX BFR vs. ULA Vulcan Showdown in the 2020s
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The United Launch Alliance's CEO Tory Bruno has been making his case for the upcoming Vulcan rocket and Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage. The system could compete against SpaceX's Falcon Heavy and BFR in the mid-2020s:
The maiden flight of the Vulcan currently is targeted for the middle of 2020. Two successful commercial launches are required as part of the government certification process, followed by a required upper stage upgrade to improve performance, either moving from two to four Centaur RL10 engines or using a different set of engines altogether. If all goes well, ULA will introduce its new upper stage in 2024, the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, or ACES, that Bruno says will revolutionize spaceflight. "This is on the scale of inventing the airplane," Bruno told reporters during the media roundtable. "That's how revolutionary this upper stage is. It's 1900, and I'm inventing the airplane. People don't even know what they're going to do with it yet. But I'm confident it's going to create a large economy in space that doesn't exist today. No one is working on anything like this."
The Vulcan will stand 228 feet tall with a first stage powered by two engines provided by either Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, or Aerojet Rocketdyne. Blue Origin's BE-4 engine burns methane and liquid oxygen while Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR-1 powerplant burns a more traditional mixture of oxygen and highly refined kerosene.
[...] ULA plans to begin engine recovery operations after the Vulcan is routinely flying and after the ACES upper stage is implemented. Bruno said the engines represent two-thirds of the cost of the stage and getting them back every time, with no impact on mission performance, will pay big dividends. SpaceX, in contrast, must use propellant to fly its Falcon 9 stages back to touchdown. Heavy payloads bound for high orbits require most if not all of the rocket's propellant and in those cases, recovery may not be possible. As a result, SpaceX's ability to recover rocket stages depends on its manifest and the orbital demands of those payloads.
"Simplistically, if you recover the old booster propulsively then you can do that part of the time, you get all the value back some of the time," Bruno said. "Or, you can recover just the engine, which is our concept, and then you get only part of the value back, about two thirds ... but you get to do it every single time because there's no performance hit. So it really turns into math."
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Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin rocket company just scored a major contract. His company's BE-4 engines will power United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur, a new suite of rockets that will aim to better compete with Elon Musk's SpaceX on price. Its first launch is slated for 2020. The contract award with ULA marks a high-profile vote of confidence for Bezos's space startup.
"We are very glad to have our BE-4 engine selected by United Launch Alliance. United Launch Alliance is the premier launch service provider for national security missions, and we're thrilled to be part of their team and that mission," Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith said in a statement announcing the award on Thursday.
[...] Blue Origin's win does not come as a huge surprise. The BE-4 is further along in development than the comparable Aerojet engine, dubbed the AR1, and is expected to be less expensive to make. [ULA CEO Tory] Bruno previously expressed his preference for Blue's BE-4 over Aerojet's AR1.
Also at Ars Technica.
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On Wednesday, the US Air Force awarded its much-anticipated new round of "Launch Service Agreements," which provide funds to rocket companies to complete development of their boosters. There were three winners:
- United Launch Services: $967,000,000 for the development of the Vulcan Centaur launch system.
- Northrop Grumman: $791,601,015 for development of the Omega launch system
- Blue Origin: $500,000,000 for the development of the New Glenn launch system
At least two other companies were believed to be in the running for these awards, as they won grants during an earlier round of funding in 2016. It was not a surprise to see Aerojet Rocketdyne fail to win an award, as that company does not appear to have a customer for its AR1 rocket engine, which the military initially supported. It was something of a surprise not to see SpaceX win an award.
[...] These are hugely consequential awards for the rocket companies. Essentially the US Air Force, which launches more complex, heavy payloads than any other entity in the world, believes these boosters will have a significant role to play in those missions during the next decade. And when the military has confidence in your vehicle, commercial satellite contracts are more likely to follow as well.