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Delays force ULA to replace Vulcan rocket with Atlas 5 on military launch

Because the development of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket is behind schedule, the Space Force has agreed to allow the company to replace it with an Atlas 5 rocket on a ’22 launch.

That mission, known as USSF-51, was awarded to ULA in August 2020 and is scheduled to launch in late 2022. The company had bid its newly developed Vulcan to fly that mission but the vehicle is not going to be ready on time. As a result, the Space Force agreed to allow ULA to launch USSF-51 on the company’s legacy vehicle the Atlas 5.

…Switching vehicles financially penalizes ULA. According to the company, the Atlas 5 is more expensive than Vulcan. Phase 2 provisions allow ULA to change vehicles but at no cost penalty to the government.

This story however is important because of what it tells us about the state of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine, required by both Vulcan and Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket.

At this moment ULA is saying that the first launch of Vulcan is still scheduled for late this year, launching Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander to the Moon. However, for that launch to happen the rocket requires working BE-4 rocket engines for its first stage. In January Blue Origin announced it had finally completed a full throttle test of that engine after problems lasting several years, and would soon be delivering flight-worthy engines to ULA.

It is now late May, and the article at the link revealed this very significant and somewhat shocking detail buried in the text:

Blue Origin in 2020 delivered pathfinder engines for ground tests but has yet to provide a flight-qualified engine for Vulcan’s first flight. A spokeswoman for Blue Origin said May 20 the company is “on track to deliver BE-4 engines this year.” [emphasis mine]

It seems completely impossible for ULA to launch that lunar lander on Vulcan this year if it does not yet have any flight-worthy engines on hand to incorporate and test in the rocket. Worse, it appears that Blue Origin might not deliver those engines for months yet.

This story thus suggests that we will not see launches of either ULA’s new Vulcan rocket or Blue Origin’s New Glenn rocket for a considerable time.


Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors. The ebook can be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner. Note that the price for the ebook, $3.99, goes up to $5.99 on September 1, 2022.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Kyle

    ULA should of gone with SpaceX’s Raptor Engines, or design their own. We need Blue Origin, or ULA, to get their act together to keep up a healthy competition with SpaceX,. If SpaceX keeps on being the only competent game in town they will inevitably become fat and complacent and innovation will slow to a crawl, look at what’s happing with Boeing.

  • V-Man

    Is it possible that Vulcan is more or less ready but simply engine-less? It’s not really a ground-breaking design… right?

  • Other kyle

    Raptors are methane be4 is hydro right?

  • brightdark

    Raptor is full-flow using methane and BE4 is staged combustion cycle using LNG.

  • pawn

    SpaceX would never sell it’s engines to a competitor.

    Little birdies have told me that the major known problems with the BE-4 were fixed soon after the first test article was delivered to ULA.

    Once the decision to use the BE-4 was made the Vulcan design was committed to LNG. The whole first stage would have to be redesigned to use the only other available engine, the AR1 from Rocketdyne which is kero/lox.

    Bezos’s vanity company is burning through cash like mad with no end in sight. I wonder how long Jeff can take the humiliation.

  • Jeff Wright

    I think Dynetics Pyrios booster should have been Vulcan. Two new F-1s and J-2 upper stage. Modified as jet-assist Flybacks .

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