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ULA officially admits first Vulcan launch is delayed to end of year

Though the announcement was not news or unexpected, ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno yesterday officially confirmed that the first Vulcan launch will not occur before the fourth quarter of this year, not this summer as hoped.

In a call with reporters July 13, Tory Bruno, president and chief executive of ULA, said the changes to the Centaur upper stage stemmed from an investigation into a test mishap in March, where hydrogen leaked from a Centaur test article and ignited, damaging both the stage and the test rig. The company announced June 24 that it would delay the launch to make “minor reinforcements” to the Centaur.

Bruno also poo-pooed the significance of a failure of a Blue Origin BE-4 engine during a static fire test in mid-June, a failure that had been kept secret until this week.

“This doesn’t indict the qualification at all,” he said, noting that BE-4 engines have more than 26,000 seconds of cumulative runtime. “We’re very confident in the design and the workmanship of the assets that have passed acceptance. This is not unexpected.”

Forgive me if I don’t take him entirely at his word. I guarantee his engineers are looking at that failure very closely to make absolutely sure it doesn’t indicate issues with the two engines on that first Vulcan rocket. It is very likely this is part of the reason that first launch is now delayed until the end of the year.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • markedup2

    BE-4 engines have more than 26,000 seconds of cumulative runtime

    Is that good or bad and why such an odd unit? About 7 hours, 15 minutes, but still, what does that _mean_?

    One of the Falcon9s that recently landed was on its 16th flight. Each one has nine engines. Looking a launch video, MECO is around 2.5 minutes (150 seconds). 16x9x150 = 21,600. Assuming the same nine engines for all 16 flights, that one rocket almost that much engine runtime.

    For a never-flown engine, I guess 26,000 seconds is rather a lot, but in comparison it seems insignificant.

  • Mitch S.

    Wonder how many seconds of runtime SpaceX has on Raptor. And that engine has been off the ground.
    Poor Tony Bruno, even when he finally gets Vulcan successfully launched his troubles only continue. He’ll be stuck with a disposable rocket but an engine supplier that can’t produce many engines and plans to use the same engine for their own rocket.
    And he’s faced with the prospect of SpaceX getting Starship to orbit before Vulcan – how can Vulcan pretend to compete once Starship/SH becomes operational?

  • Edward

    markedup2 asked: “Is that good or bad and why such an odd unit?

    A new engine design needs a lot of ground testing before it is deemed ready to fly, so this many seconds (hours) of cumulative runtime is probably not bad. Each engine requires an amount of testing before it is deemed ready to fly. Testing for an engine is measured in seconds, because minutes do not have the precision that would adequately describe the time spent in test or operation. Do you say an engine that boosted a rocket for 136 seconds had 2 minutes of operation or 2-1/2? Or do you recreate the precision by saying 2.2667 minutes?

    Historically, a booster engine would operate in flight for two to two and a half minutes and an upper stage sustainer engine would run for four to ten minutes. Then they would end up in the ocean (or somewhere on land in China). There can be a lot of test time for not much flight time.

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