Preps for ULA’s new Vulcan rocket continue at Cape Canaveral

Vulcan to launch Astrobotic moon lander later this year

The newly assembled ULA launch platform for the Vulcan Centaur rocket made its first trip to the launch pad on Jan. 29, 2021. (Image: ULA) (WKMG 2020)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – United Launch Alliance plans to launch a brand new rocket known as the Vulcan Centaur later this year from Cape Canaveral following years of development.

The company said in an update it continues to prepare for the maiden launch later this year but did not provide an estimated launch date. ULA is modifying Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station to support Vulcan rocket launches.

ULA officials said they have made several modifications at the launch site and processing facilities for the 183-foot-tall rocket.

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SLC-41 now has an added 300,000 gallon liquid natural gas storage area. Crews have also expanded the acoustic suppression water system and installed a 100,000 gallon liquid hydrogen and 60,000 gallon liquid oxygen storage areas.

The rocket’s first stage is fueled by liquid natural gas and liquid oxygen as well as liquid oxygen and hydrogen for the second stage.

Meanwhile, to get the 1.3 million-pound Vulcan to the launchpad, ULA contracted Hensel Phelps to build a mobile launch platform. Teams successfully tested out the new platform on its first trip to the launch pad where it will undergo further testing.

ULA CEO Tory Bruno tweeted a time-lapse video of the 2.7-mile rollout from the hangar to the pad. When a rocket is on the platform it takes several hours to get to the launch site.

“Thar she rolls!!” Bruno wrote.

SLC-41 will still be able to support ULA’s workhorse rocket, the Atlas V, with the new modifications, according to ULA.

“These modifications were challenging as we needed to complete all of the work at the pad without impacting our customers’ flying Atlas V missions,” ULA Vulcan program manager Mark Peller said in a statement. “We were able to complete this critical work with no impact to our Atlas manifest. To our knowledge, ULA has the first dual-use facilities and launch pad capable of supporting two different launch vehicles, while providing greater flexibility leading up to the first Vulcan Centaur launch and a smooth transition from Atlas to Vulcan Centaur afterward.”

Later this year, Vulcan will launch a private moon lander for Pittsburg-based Astrobotic. The Peregrine lander was selected to fly several NASA payloads to the moon as part of the Commercial Lunar Payloads Services program.

Astrobotic CEO John Thornton told News 6 in January the company is looking forward to being on one of Vulcan’s first flights.

“There’s a lot of collaboration and integration that has to occur to get the spacecrafts to fit together to fly together to do all the right things and end up in the right orbit at the end of the day,” Thornton said. “So that interface is critical and ULA has been a great partner for that first flight and we’re very excited and proud to be flying with them, and excited that we both have historic firsts on these missions.”

ULA won’t be the only company launching a new vehicle this year from Florida. Relativity Space is also targeting late this year to launch its Terran 1 3D-printed rocket and Blue Origin’s New Glenn will also be assembled and launched from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.