Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

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.


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  • 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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