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ULA orders 116 rocket engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne for its Vulcan upper stage

Capitalism in space: In order to meet its contract with Amazon to launch a lot of Kuiper satellites, ULA has now ordered 116 rocket engines from Aerojet Rocketdyne for the Centaur upper stage of its new and as-yet unlaunched Vulcan-Centaur rocket.

Aerojet said this was the company’s largest ever contract for the RL10 engine. The large purchase of rocket engines comes on the heels of Amazon’s announcement April 5 that it selected Arianespace, Blue Origin and ULA to launch up to 3,236 satellites for its Project Kuiper broadband constellation.

CEO Tory Bruno said ULA plans to fly Vulcan’s first mission late in 2022. Winning the Amazon deal would more than double the annual rate of Vulcan launches to as many as 25 per year, and ULA will ramp up production to meet the demand, Bruno said last week at the Space Symposium.

ULA’s engine choice for Vulcan’s upper stage dates back to 2018 when it selected a variant of the RL10, the same engine used to power the upper stages of ULA’s legacy rockets Atlas 5 and Delta 4 Heavy. Over the past 60 years, more than 450 RL10 engines have flown on various ULA heritage vehicles.

Meanwhile, ULA hopes to get its first BE-4 engines from Blue Origin, needed for the Vulcan first stage, this summer. Vulcan-Centaur cannot make its first launch until it gets some flightworthy BE-4 engines, and these are now three years behind schedule.

Conscious Choice cover

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.

 

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9 comments

  • sippin_bourbon

    I still think this deal telegraphs Blue Origin’s low confidence in New Glenn.
    They need to get these birds up there, and New Glenn, of the three launch vehicles (Vulcan-Centaur, Ariane6, New Glenn), is the least developed.

    But the fate of this program does seem to bow be tied to the success or failure of the BE-4.
    If it fails, I do not think Arianespace could absorb the remaining flights.

  • Rockribbed1

    Lex Luthor is incompetent in engine manufacturing, but on the other hand he wastes at ton of time suing Space-x.

  • Concerned

    It will be very interesting to see what ULA charges Bezos for those launches. I can’t see how the non-reusable, 2 different fuels, 2 different engine vendors Vulcan rocket will ever be cost effective. That thing is obsolete even before its first flight.

  • GaryMike

    Bezos is not a Rocket Engineer. He manages ‘drones’ to accomplish his retail visions.

    Just because you’re smart and accomplished in retail space, it doesn’t make you a rocket engineer capable of achieving actual outer space..

  • Jeff Wright

    As proof of the above-anyone see Eiger’s “Nedelin Light” test from ‘Pythom’-yes, with the ‘m?’
    I knew even as a child that rockets are loud. There was a tiny nozzle behind a clear barrier that was deafening at Huntsville. These folks were sent running.

  • Richard M

    It will be very interesting to see what ULA charges Bezos for those launches. I can’t see how the non-reusable, 2 different fuels, 2 different engine vendors Vulcan rocket will ever be cost effective. That thing is obsolete even before its first flight.

    Tory has now said that thanks to this deal, ULA is now in a position to actually pursue SMART recovery and reuse of the first stage engine pod, because Vulcan will now fly with a high enough cadence to make a business case for reuse . . . or so he says.

    Obviously recovery and reuse of the engine pod is still not going to get Vulcan costs down to what Starship is likely to be, and likely not even Falcon. And I have serious doubts it can compete with the new medium class launchers being developed by Rocket Lab and Relativity – particularly for LEO constellations. Still, I will always see any launch provider pursuing reuse as a positive development.

  • Ray Van Dune

    Seems to me I heard that the BE-4 fell down not on performance, but reusability. Should be interesting times coming up for ULA.

  • Mike Puckett

    I wonder how much such a large order drives down the cost per RL-10?

  • Edward

    GaryMike wrote: “Bezos is not a Rocket Engineer. He manages ‘drones’ to accomplish his retail visions. Just because you’re smart and accomplished in retail space, it doesn’t make you a rocket engineer capable of achieving actual outer space.

    Although this is true and a good point, Elon Musk is likewise not a rocket engineer by training. Bezos and Musk both rely heavily upon their experienced rocket engineers, but the difference is that Musk closely supervised his, making sure that they stayed on the chosen course of inexpensive transport to space sooner rather than later. Now that Bezos is in a position to closely supervise his rocket engineers, will he be able to do it successfully?

    In the past, rocket engineers have attempted to reduce costs by maximizing capacity, a technical efficiency. However, Bezos ands Musk took reusability to heart, as many people had recommended in the 1990s, in order to reduce costs by reusing the most rocket that they could. It is a different philosophy that reduces costs and makes more booster capacity available. Technical efficiency was sacrificed for cost efficiency and increased availability of the service.

    I suspect that BE-4’s largest manufacturability problem stems from the original intention to reuse it and the rockets it flies on. With that philosophy, not many BE-4s needed to be made each year. I do not think that Blue Origin had a lack of concurrent engineering — the inclusion of the manufacturing engineers in the design process — I think that the manufacturing requirements changed late in the process.

    Unfortunately, after the design was complete and some testing was performed, Blue Origin marketed BE-4 as an engine available to other companies. At the time that they sold it to ULA, ULA had announced that they would try to reuse the engines after each flight. Again, not many more engines would have to be manufactured each year. With ULA’s change in philosophy to expendable boosters only, Blue Origin suddenly had to make many more engines annually than they had intended and than they had designed their manufacturing facilities and processes to make. With a contract to launch 38 expendable Vulacans, that is quite a few engines per year. Last November, SpaceX had a crisis when they realized that their test plan intended to test more boosters than they would have engines available for those tests, and a similar manufacturing crisis emerged.*

    Aerojet, on the other hand, had an expendable engine, and I think that they had designed its manufacturing process so that quite a few could be made each year. They may have less trouble building the engines that ULA needs for its Centaur upper stages.

    * The delay in launch licensing at Boca Chica may be the same existential threat that the Raptor manufacturing crisis had been: Starship not being available in time to put Starlink in black ink. Hopefully, SpaceX is changing its business plan to adapt to this governmental slow-walk. It is a terrible thing to have government, not free markets, choose the winners and losers. Government is getting what it wants, but We the People are not getting what we want.

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