The United Launch Alliance's CEO Tory Bruno has been making his case for the upcoming Vulcan [wikipedia.org] rocket and Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage [wikipedia.org]. The system could compete against SpaceX's Falcon Heavy and BFR in the mid-2020s [cbsnews.com]:
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."
ULA expects to fly at least 7-8 more Delta IV Heavy [wikipedia.org] rockets between now and the early 2020s, with some Atlas V [wikipedia.org] launches happening concurrently with the beginning of Vulcan launches in the mid-2020s.
The U.S. Air Force has just awarded [floridatoday.com] ULA a $355 million contract to launch two Air Force Space Command spacecraft, and SpaceX a $290 million contract to launch three GPS Block III [wikipedia.org] satellites.
In addition to testing BFR with short hops starting in 2019, SpaceX plans to send BFR into orbit by 2020 [universetoday.com]. The company is leasing land in Los Angeles [arstechnica.com], reportedly for the construction of BFR rockets.
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Boeing CEO Says His Company Will Carry Humans to Mars Before SpaceX [soylentnews.org]
Zuma Failure Emboldens SpaceX's ULA-Backed Critics; Gets Support from US Air Force [Updated] [soylentnews.org]
SpaceX to Launch Five Times in April, Test BFR by 2019 [soylentnews.org]