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ULA stacks Vulcan-Centaur rocket for ground tests prior to first launch

ULA’s new Vulcan-Centaur rocket has finally been stacked in the company’s assembly facility at Cape Canaveral, ready to be rolled out for its first launchpad fueling tests prior to its first launch, tentatively scheduled for the end of March.

The odds of that launch date being met is quite uncertain. Right now neither the rocket’s payloads nor its solid rocket strap-on boosters have been added, and before that will happen the company plans to first roll the rocket out to the launchpad, do fueling and countdown tests. It will then roll it back to the assembly building to stack those components, and then roll it back to the launchpad for launch.

To meet that launch target everything must go perfectly during these preliminary operations, something that is generally unexpected for a rocket’s first launch. ULA however has an advantage, in that it has already done much of this testing using a dummy Vulcan, and it also has decades of experience launching rockets.

Much rides on this first launch. The payloads include Astrobotic’s first lunar lander, Peregrine, as well as Amazon’s first two test satellites for its Kuiper internet constellation. Also, ULA needs to complete two successful launches in order to get certified to begin its commercial launches for the military.

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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2 comments

  • Richard M

    The odds of that launch date being met is quite uncertain.

    One problem is that Astrobotic was not quite so candid about the state of its Peregrine: It still does not have its engines yet. Apparently, the plan is to mate them up with the lander down at the Cape. Given that this is a first time event, it may be very sanguine to expect that integration will go quickly. (See Eric Berger’s story on this at Ars Technica last week.)

    But the other problem lurking here is that the very same launch pad, SLC-41, is supposed to launch the Ctarliner CFT mission in April (internal NASA date is April 13 at last check). If Vulcan slides to the right at all – and it seems just about certain, as you say, that it will – then Vulcan will have to wait its turn, because the Starliner CFT has priority. ULA in any event may not be unhappy with that, since they will likely need the extra time anyway.

    I think a launch in May or June seems more likely at this point…

  • Star Bird

    How soon can we be sending Liberal Democrats into Orbit?

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