Inside ULA’s New Vulcan Rocket

Artist's conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)
Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)

ULA unveiled its new Vulcan rocket during the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs yesterday. CEO Tory Bruno called it a game-changing launch vehicle that would lower costs, advance re-usability and provide an architecture for the exploration and exploitation of cis-lunar space. It is set to debut in 2019.

So, what makes this system different from SpaceX’s Falcon launch vehicles and anything else that’s out there? Continue reading to find out.

Instead of trying to recover the first stage of the booster the way SpaceX is attempting, ULA would separate the first-stage engines and recover them by using a hypersonic decelerator, parachute, parafoil and helicopter. The engines would then be attached to a new stage for reuse.

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ULA can save two Blue Origin BE-4 engines that make up 65 percent of the booster’s cost. Engineers will re-certify the engines for another flight instead of having to re-certify an entire stage.

Credit: ULA
Credit: ULA

The two BE-4 engines will burn methane and liquid oxygen and generate 1.1 million pounds of thrust, making the stage more powerful than ULA’s current Atlas V and Delta IV boosters. The stage will feature stretch fuel tanks to allow for more propellant. Up to six solid-rocket boosters can be attached depending upon the payload.

Credit: ULA
Credit: ULA

ULA plans to phase out the use of its venerable Centaur upper stage by 2023. To replace it, engineers have gone back to the drawing board….

Credit: ULA
Credit: ULA

The advanced cryogenic upper stage will feature reusable engines designed for unlimited restarts in space. The stage is designed to be refueled in space and can serve as a space tug or propellant depot. It will be powered by an internal combustion engine.

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Vulcan rocket (Credit; ULA)

Vulcan will include components and features from the Atlas V and Delta IV. The rocket can be fitted with four and five meter fairings depending upon the size of the satellite to be launched.

Credit: ULA
Credit: ULA

Vulcan’s cost, which start at less than $100 million per flight, will be higher than for SpaceX’s Falcon 9. However, the rocket will be more powerful.

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ULA also says the architecture will be flexible, providing an in-space transportation architecture that can be used for operations in cis-lunar space and beyond. The system can support lunar bases, asteroid mining, commercial facilities and other uses of space.