ULA to fly Vulcan components on Atlas 5 flights


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Capitalism in space: In order to speed the development of its next generation commercial rocket, the Vulcan Centaur, ULA will fly Vulcan components as they are developed on its Atlas 5 rocket.

The first Vulcan technology to fly on Atlas 5 will be new payload fairings from Swiss supplier Ruag built using an “out-of-autoclave” production process that enables fairing halves to be produced as one piece, a process Ruag says lowers production time and costs. “The out-of-autoclave fairings, which are manufactured by Ruag, and now in the U.S. — they are in a factory next to ours in Decatur — that’s going to fly on Atlas 5 this year,” Louradour said.

Sometime in 2020 they will then fly an Atlas 5 launch using the solid rocket boosters Northrop Grumman is building for Vulcan.

This is not really news. When ULA announced their plans to build Vulcan in 2015, they said then that they intended to transition from Atlas 5 to Vulcan over time, slowly introducing components on Atlas 5 until it was entirely replaced.

Nonetheless, it shows that ULA is adopting some of the the same common sense development procedures used by SpaceX. By taking advantage of launches as they happen, they can speed development. And they need to do this in order to keep pace with SpaceX.

Isn’t competition wonderful?

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3 comments

  • Wodun

    It isn’t just speed but this allows them to have customers pay for testing of design iterations.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “Isn’t competition wonderful?
    In this case, competition is forcing one competitor to relearn how to develop space products quickly, like the U.S. space industry was able to do back in the 1960s. Of course, the other competitor started its business on this concept of rapid development, setting the bar on future competition.

  • mpthompson

    What’s even better is that this the feedback loop will force SpaceX to even be more competitive in the future than they might otherwise be. Competition is indeed wonderful.

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