Vulcan Centaur reaches Cape
February 13th 10:00 AM Est at Port Canaveral & Canaveral Space Force Station
The very first Vulcan Centaur has reached Cape Canaveral today. ULA's (United Launch Alliance) next generation rocket which will eventually phase out the Atlas V and delta rockets. The picture above shows the Vulcan Centaur being offloaded from the company's boat "Rocketship" at Port Canaveral just outside of the Canaveral Space Force Station. Being built in Decatur Alabama, all the ULA boosters must come via riverway to the Gulf of Mexico and around the Florida Keys to reach Cape Canaveral. You can see still inside the boat is a smaller Atlas V booster that will be used for a launch sometime this year as well.
This Vulcan Centaur is what's called a Pathfinder. It will be used for testing at the VIF (Vertical Integration Facility) and the new Spaceflight Processing Operations Center at SLC-41 and on the launch pad itself to help familiarize ground crews with all the logistics and operations that will be required when launching. The old Space Shuttle Pathfinder was made out of wood and metal where the Vulcan is the real deal, ready to fly booster. Only thing needed is to swap out the mock boosters for the real Blue Origin BE-4 engines. Those engines were initially designed for soul usage on the company's New Glenn rocket, Blue Origins first orbital class launch system, but announced in 2014 that ULA would be using them on their new Vulcan Centaur. Each engine is capable of 550,000lbs of thrust, and uses an oxygen rich liquified natural gas fuel that was developed by BO. These engines will bring the 202ft tall, 18ft wide rocket with 60,000lbs of payload into a LEO (Low Earth Orbit) or a 31,700lb payload into a GTO (Geostationary Transfer Orbit).
In April of 2015 Tory Bruno the CEO of ULA announced the name Vulcan as the company's newest launch vehicle. Their current workhorse, the Atlas V which has currently flown just over eighty times in the last decades will be phased out in a few years as the company starts bringing in new contracts with Vulcan in mind to carry them into orbit. The Vulcan is designed to be more efficient and more cost effective to customers. With other companies, like SpaceX being able to now lower costs of launching payloads ULA has been forced to keep up with the market as well. They also announced in April of 2015 that they were working on some reuse with the Vulcan as well with their SMART (Sensible Modular Autonomous Return Technology) concept. This is where the booster engines, avionics, and thrust structure would detach as a module from the propellant tanks after the booster engine cut off time and descend back through the atmosphere under and inflatable heat shield before deploying parachutes to be scooped up mid-air by a helicopter. ULA stated this would reduce the cost of the first stage propulsion by 90% and 65% of the entire first stage costs. In 2019, last we heard, the company was still planning to use this method, though since then we have heard nothing official about this concept.