ULA Unveils Next Generation Rocket Named Vulcan

ULA_logoCOLORADO SPRINGS, Colo., April 13, 2015 (ULA PR) — United Launch Alliance (ULA) unveiled its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) today at the 31st Space Symposium. The new rocket, Vulcan, will transform the future of space by making launch services more affordable and accessible. The NGLS brings together decades of experience on ULA’s reliable Atlas and Delta vehicles, combining the best features of each to produce an all-new, American-made rocket that will enable mission success from low Earth orbit all the way to Pluto.

“More capabilities in space mean more capabilities here on earth,” said Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance. “Because the Next Generation Launch System will be the highest-performing, most cost-efficient rocket on the market, it will open up new opportunities for the nation’s use of space. Whether it is scientific missions, medical advancements, national security or new economic opportunities for businesses, ULA’s new Vulcan rocket is a game-changer in terms of creating endless possibilities in space.”

To help give all Americans a chance to play a role in the future of space, last month ULA launched an online naming competition that allowed Americans to vote on their favorite name for the NGLS. More than one million votes were cast, and Vulcan was the top choice.

“As the company currently responsible for more than 70 percent of the nation’s space launches, it is only fitting that America got to name the country’s rocket of the future,” added Bruno.

By streamlining the processes and rocket design, and developing a new all-American engine, ULA will continue to be the country’s most innovative, cost-efficient and technically rigorous launch company, providing a wide range of services to a broad customer base – including the most critical U.S. government missions.

“ULA’s precision and focus makes the remarkable seem routine. Our track record of 95 successful launches in less than nine years – an average of one launch per month – is unmatched in the industry. Our ability to deliver critical national security, scientific and commercial satellites into the correct orbit every time is filled with risks and challenges, and ULA has delivered every time. ULA’s reliability is and will continue to be part of the mission,” Tory Bruno concluded.

At today’s news announcement, Bruno also unveiled the Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) initiative, which will be introduced into NGLS and allow ULA to reuse the most expensive portion of the first stage – the booster main engines – via mid-air capture. This allows a controlled recovery environment providing the confidence needed to re-fly the hardware.

Step one of NGLS will consist of a single booster stage, the high-energy Centaur second stage and either a 4- or 5-meter-diameter payload fairing. Up to four solid rocket boosters (SRB) augment the lift off power of the 4-meter configuration, while up to six SRBs can be added to the 5-meter version.

In step two, the Centaur second stage will be replaced by the more powerful, innovative Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES), making the NGLS capability that of today’s Delta IV Heavy rocket. ACES can execute almost unlimited burns, extending on-orbit operating time from hours to weeks.

Last year, ULA announced that it had partnered with Blue Origin, LLC, a privately funded aerospace company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, to provide a cutting-edge engine for the NGLS while also providing a viable alternative to the Russian-made RD-180. This collaboration to fund the development of a new, U.S.-made BE-4 rocket engine, is part of the cost-reduction innovation for our customers. The BE-4 is designed for low recurring cost and will meet commercial and NASA requirements as well as those of the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The BE-4 uses low-cost liquid natural gas fuel and is designed for reuse.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 90 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at www.ulalaunch.com. Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/ulalaunchtwitter.com/ulalaunch, and instagram.com/ulalaunch.

  • Jeff Smith

    What diameter did they say the core was, 4m (Altas) or 5m (Delta)? I was trying to multitask and watch both the Vulcan annoucement and the SpaceX launch at the same time, but I think I missed it.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Looks like they outsourced the whole system to the Russians.



  • Geoff T

    Same name, unrelated systems. There’s a surprising lack of naming inventiveness within the space biz.

  • Jeff Smith

    Hahahahahhahahaha! At least they realized all the other names were terrible.

  • Luke_R

    “ULA will continue to be the country’s most innovative, cost-efficient…” How exactly will it CONTINUE to be the country’s most cost-efficient launch provider when it wasn’t before the announcement, and may not be even after this is built?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I was partial to Eagle. American eagle, Eagle the LEM, F-15 …. Vulcan sounds cool tho as the volcano god. And I have full faith that this Vulcan will at least become real unlike the Russian version. Let’s hope LM builds a good system and adds another good vehicle to the US stable of space launch vehicles. But you always have to sit back and enjoy the heroic greatness of Soviet engineering esp when taken to comical extreme. That always makes it all the more heroic.

  • Saturn13

    They will stretch the Delta tank. So I think 5m.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Most innovative and cost-efficient from the POV of the shareholders ROI.

  • Saturn13

    So, run a compressor to refreeze the gases.

  • mzungu

    More like… Unveiling of Next Generation Computer Graphics… Yawn… Wake me up when the HW are build…

  • delphinus100

    Too bad Leonard Nimoy missed this…

  • Michael Vaicaitis


  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “I was trying to multitask and watch both the Vulcan announcement and the SpaceX launch at the same time..”
    haha, ditto!

  • Jeff Smith

    I thin you’re right, but I’m going nuts still trying to find a ULA blurb that says or shows that.

    The density hit from going to kerosene to methane is enough that they need to go to the 5 meter diameter. It really doesn’t make sense any other way. That said, the increase in Isp, plus the huge amount of impulse from “dense” propellants (relative to Delta IV) is a real bump to what they can deliver. Keeping balloon tanks for their Centaur II (the new name is dumb) is not something I expected, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility.

    Areodynamically the strap ons look like the Atlas V versions, but it’ll be interesting if they go with the current Aeroject Rocketdyne version or the Orbital ATK GEM 60s. Looks like a cool rocket.

    PS, the amount of under-40 people in the video is a TOTAL copy of SpaceX. Anyone who actually made the final decisions on this is in senior management.

  • Saturn13

    !00million$ a launch is not bad. 200million for heavy. It is possible that O-ATK could beat those prices. I don’t know. Build more segments. Stack for what’s needed. But they are competing for the SRB, so that might be enough for them. Of course they may have been waiting for this and then under cut them in price.

  • Sam Moore

    Don’t forget Arianespace’s Vulcain engine, or Paul Allen’s Vulcan Aerospace.

  • Bill Douglass

    New Blue Origin engines and methane propellant – otherwise the same old stuff.

  • JimNobles

    Yeah, Vulcan Aerospace has already said they had the name first and they don’t want ULA to use it. ULA should have consulted me first. For a modest fee I would have found out if the name was already taken ’cause I have the google net.

  • Kapitalist

    If it wasn’t for the conflict in Ukraine, they wouldn’t have done this, changing their Russian engines. That’s their driver for this innovation. And it could suddenly be canceled if a peace deal leads to resumed import of Russian engines. ULA is only about politics (where the money is), no motivation at all to do anything for space exploration. This is 100% dependant on what some armed bandits in Ukraine will do next, and thus an unlikely and extremely high risk project.

  • Ildiko Ross

    “Armed bandits in Ukraine” better described as a proxy war between Ukraine and Putin’s Russia, and Russia is nuclear power. So yeah American capitalists in your race to the bottom, Russian rocket engines powering American lv’s is an idea whose time has come, and gone.

  • Larry J

    It’s like that museum that claims to have the hatchet that George Washington used to chop down the cherry tree. The handle has been changed 5 times and the head 3 times, but never both at the same time, so it’s the same hatchet.

    Changing engines and propellants completely changes the design of the first stage. It may use the legacy Delta IV diameter and tooling but the actual design will be completely different. Likewise, the ACES upper stage will be completely new, even if they continue to use the RL-10 engine. It’ll be interesting to see the trade studies between the RL-10, BE-3, and the XCOR engine but those may never be released outside of ULA.

    Overall, there’s a lot of potential in this design. As much as I like SpaceX, it’s good to have options and competition.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “Vulcan is a trademark of Vulcan Inc., and we have informed ULA of our trademark rights. Paul Allen and Vulcan were early leaders within space exploration with the launch of SpaceShipOne more than a decade ago. We are flattered by ULA’s tribute to our legacy by naming their new rocket ‘Vulcan.'”

  • JimNobles

    If the Vulcan Inc. claim holds I have an idea where they might be able to pick up some ball caps for the company softball team really cheap.

  • Kapitalist

    There’s no difference between US politicians and Russians politicians with respect to use the violent force of government against their own citizens in order to make themselves maximum profit without having to bother with actually producing anything which has any value. I agree that buying old Russian engine is not the way forward for space flight. But changing them because of the Russian population living on Crimea wanting to belong to the Russian state, is a completely random cause for rocket redesign.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    So that mid-air recovery plan is something. Is it appropriate to compare this operation to in-flight refueling?

  • Hug Doug

    Not really, other than two objects being in close proximity in the air. There’s a much greater degree of leeway catching the engines as they fall, and the helicopter can maneuver to its target, but I think you only get one shot at it, unless they can swing around for another pass, so it requires precise timing.

    Keep in mind that mid-air retrieval of rocket engines isn’t a totally new concept. the old Atlas missiles from the early 60s used to drop engines to reduce weight during launch, there were recovery systems studied at the time, but the costs of rebuilding the engines turned out to be too much so this effort was cancelled.

    ULA studied a system almost exactly like this for the EELV program in 2008 –


    Also, mid-air retrieval was used regularly to recover film canisters from the early Corona and Gambit spy satellites.

    So the mid-air retrieval part shouldn’t have too many question marks, given that this engine recovery scheme is based heavily on work done years ago.

  • Aerospike

    Yeah that statement made me chuckle, like it is completely impossible that both got their inspiration for that name from the same fictional planet…

  • Larry J

    They could always call it the Enterprise.

  • Larry J

    I think it depends on which engine wins the first stage down select. If it’s the BE-4 (likely), then the diameter will likely be 5 meters due to the methane propellant. However, if the RP-1/LOX Aerojet AR-1 wins, then the diameter won’t need to increase. The down select is supposed to happen in 18 months.

  • Snofru Chufu

    Good political statement!

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    The comparison to in-flight refuelling was to do with the in-space refuelling of the second stage. By using LH2 and LOX to pressurise the tanks and for thrusters, they have gotten rid of helium and hydrazine. But they were only giving the second stage an in-space lifetime of “weeks or months”, so it’s not quite a deep space vehicle or a use for years LEO or cis-lunar tug.

    And as with the F9, there is no plan for second stage recovery. As for the engine recovery plan, I suppose it’s better than nothing. Of course they can’t land the stage because they don’t have a sufficient throttle because of using two large engines.

  • Doug Weathers

    Or, from the Roman god of fire and forge.

  • Aerospike

    Of course 🙂
    How can someone get a trademark on a name that has been around for centuries anyway?

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    They seem to be using similar business strategy to Ariane. They have seen that F9 costs $60 million and that the price will go down as first stage recovery gets perfected, so they’ve decided to aim for a base price of $100 million. I suppose they’re going with the best plan they could come up with. In a world without SpaceX, I would no doubt be applauding their efforts, but the fact is that SpaceX do exist.

    Falcon 1 reached orbit in 2008 and F9 reached orbit in 2010. Apparently F9 cost SpaceX about $500 million to develop. I would image F9v1.1, Grasshopper, F9R Dev, the landing barges and the landing complexes probably cost going on another $500 million. Bruno hinted that NGLS will be about $2 billion in development costs. I would be quite happy for there to be 10 companies or space agencies like SpaceX, all aiming high and slashing the cost of access to space, but ULA and Arianespace don’t seem interested in developing competitive systems.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    Tesla couldn’t call their next car Model E. Renault had to rename the Alpine to the A610 for the British market because of a previous trademark. Depends if Vulcan push to court and if US courts uphold this sort of thing. You’d have thought ULA would have consulted their legal dept, but then again in all the excitement perhaps they forgot.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    How about the iRocket – surely there’s no-one that would take issue and sue at the drop of a hat about that name.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “100million$ a launch is not bad. 200million for heavy.”
    It would be OK cept it won’t happen for another 5 years and F9 (that outperforms the base option) is already $60million and FH will outperform the Heavy and cost under $150 million. Even Ariane6 will be cheaper.

  • Larry J

    From this website in 2011.

    A NASA analysis shows that it cost significantly less for SpaceX to develop the Falcon 9 using the COTS private-partnership approach than it would have under NASA’s traditional approach to contracting.

    Under methodology #1, the cost model predicted that the Falcon 9 would cost $4.0 billion based on a traditional approach. Under methodology #2, NAFCOM predicted $1.7 billion when the inputs were adjusted to a more commercial development approach. Thus, the predicted the cost to develop the Falcon 9 if done by NASA would have been between $1.7 billion and $4.0 billion.

    SpaceX has publicly indicated that the development cost for Falcon 9 launch vehicle was approximately $300 million. Additionally, approximately $90 million was spent developing the Falcon 1 launch vehicle which did contribute to some extent to the Falcon 9, for a total of $390 million. NASA has verified these costs. (emphasis added)

    In a world without SpaceX, I would no doubt be applauding their efforts, but the fact is that SpaceX do exist.

    In a world without SpaceX, you’d have no incentive for any of the legacy launch providers to change the way they’ve always done business. They’d still be charging very high prices on cost-plus contracts. There was zero incentive for them to lower launch costs – ever. SpaceX is forcing all of them to change their approach to the business or risk going bankrupt. SpaceX is a disruptive company, not because of super advanced technology (just the opposite) but by their emphasis on lowering the cost of space access.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “SpaceX is forcing all of them to change their approach to the business or risk going bankrupt.”

    Yes, but this is the strange thing. Despite SpaceX’s much lower prices, and the high probability that those prices will reduce even further, both Ariane and ULA are only paying lip service to the SpaceX threat to their business. Both Vulcan and Ariane6 are designed from the outset to be uncompetitive with F9 and FH. And what’s more they’re both spending billions to get to be twice the price of where SpaceX are now, let alone when A6 and Vulcan are actually ready. Ariane at least have some small amount of guaranteed government business, but come 2020 and beyond how do ULA expect to compete with inferior performing products at higher prices?. From a bystanders point of view, it just seems like utter madness.

  • Saturn13

    I agree. It is not competitive. They will not win the next competition and will be out of business with this system. They have to ship by ship up Tom Bigby and down Miss. Gulf, Atlantic or Panama Canal. Build at the Cape. But they have contacts for Alabama. Some money from Fl., but not enough. SpaceX will put them out of business.

  • Doug Weathers

    You mean like Windows? Or The Doors? The words “Star” and “Wars” have been around quite a while, too….

    A trademark doesn’t claim ownership of a word or phrase, only the right to use that word to describe a product.


    IANAL, but it seems to me that ULA’s trademark is for a rocket, and Vulcan Aerospace’s trademark is for the name of a company. It’s hard to confuse the two, so ULA isn’t infringing on Vulcan Aerospace.

    For example, it’s hard to confuse the F-15 Eagle with the AMC Eagle, or the Fighting Falcon with the Ford Falcon (or the Millennium Falcon, for that matter).

  • Doug Weathers

    You’d get more than one shot at it if you used more than one helicopter.

  • Hug Doug

    That’s true… Not sure how economical it would be, but you are absolutely right.

  • Aerospike

    I actually wasn’t really serious with that comment, but thanks for the explanation 🙂

  • windbourne

    It is amazing what can be done by putting a none MBA in charge who loves competition

  • windbourne

    ULA will continue to have guaranteed gov launches until there are at least 3 ( possibly 2 ) other companies that can do the job.
    The fact that NASA and DOD continue to keep osc alive for their launch systems speaks volumes.

  • Doug Weathers

    Well played, sir!