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Update on the status of Vulcan, Ariane-6, and New Glenn

Link here. This excellent article is focused on whether these three new rockets, none of which has yet completed its first test flight, will be able to meet their launch contract obligations with Amazon, which needs to launch at least 1,600 satellites of its Kuiper broadband constellation by July 2026 to meet its FCC license requirements. Those requirements also obligate Amazon to have the full constellation of about 3,200 satellites in orbit by July 2029.

The launch contracts to these three untried rockets was the largest such contract ever issued, involving 83 launches and billions of dollars.

To sum up where things stand in terms of the first test launch of each rocket:

  • ULA is still targeting December for the first Vulcan rocket launch.
  • Blue Origin says it will begin launches of New Glenn in 2024, but remains very vague about a precise schedule.
  • Arianespace plans to set the date of the first launch of Ariane-6 in October, pending completion of a final long-duration engine test. It expects however that the first flight will be in 2024.

At this stage of development, with both ULA and Arianespace doing actual engine and launchpad tests, we should consider their schedule to be reasonable firm. Both should begin flights next year. Whether both can ramp up production to complete the many launches Amazon requires in such a short time remains unknown.

Though Blue Origin says it will begin launches next year, don’t bet on it. The company will not only need to do that first launch, it will need to do a great deal launchpad and fueling tests and rehearsals, as well as the engine tests that both ULA and Arianespace are now completing, before an orbital test launch can occur. The company has done none of this as yet. It also continues to operate very slowly for a profit-oriented company.

In addition, Blue Origin will also need to ramp up production of its BE-4 engines in order to serve both ULA’s Vulcan rocket and New Glenn. At the moment it appears its production line is barely able to produce enough engines to meet Vulcan’s requirements, with few engines left over for New Glenn.

The article at the link also gives an update on the status of three other new rockets:

  • Mitsubishi is now hoping to launch its H3 rocket by the end of this year.
  • Relativity remains confident its Terran-R is on schedule for a 2026 launch date
  • SpaceX continues to negotiate with the FAA for a launch licence to fly a second orbital test launch of Starship/Superheavy, though the best a company official would say about when that would be issues was “real soon” and “we’re almost there.”

On the last item, though it seems the FAA should be able now to quickly issue that launch licence, it hasn’t happened, and — as I have predicted since April, we should not be surprised if many weeks or even months pass before it is.

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.

The ebook is available everywhere for $5.99 (before discount) at amazon, or direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit. If you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and the author gets a bigger cut much sooner.

The audiobook is also available at all these vendors, and is also free with a 30-day trial membership to Audible.

"Not simply about one mission, [Genesis] is also the history of America's quest for the moon... Zimmerman has done a masterful job of tying disparate events together into a solid account of one of America's greatest human triumphs."--San Antonio Express-News


  • Ray Van Dune

    I believe your reference to having 1/2 of the Kuiper satellites launched by July 2024 is in error, and should be by July 2026, according to the linked article.

    It is also fair to point out that ULA has a number of its remaining Atlas V launches reserved for these satellites.

    But that being said, your point is valid, and I sure wouldn’t want to have the money riding on this than Amazon does!

  • David Eastman

    I sure hope Ray is correct, there is zero possibility of launching 1500 satellites by July 2024. I’ll be surprised if they manage it by 2026. I expect we’ll be hearing about them asking for an extension soon, but I have no idea on how likely that is.

    Blue Origin is amazingly quiet about what they’re doing, any kind of public announcement from them is usually about plans, and then you don’t hear anything more for years. And they sit on their people hard so there isn’t even much in the way of leaks or rumors. But any time you get a “rumors say” or “from my sources” it indicates that they’re further along than it looks. Clearly they’re planning on and hoping for things to snowball and accelerate rapidly once they clear the early milestones, but I’ll believe it when I see it. SpaceX took longer to get from where Blue Origin is now to where it needs to be, and BO does not operate at SpaceX speed, not even close.

    On the SpaceX/FAA side, there are lots of people that say “oh this will take months” and other people that say “the FAA is just waiting to sign off once SpaceX does their part and it will be days.” For the first launch, the actual result was about halfway between what the optimists and pessimists were saying. I no longer believe we’ll see the license issued in September, and if we don’t see it October, the launch could easily slip to ’24 as the end of the year weather and holidays slow everything down. And January weather could then be an issue… I’m really hoping for late September or October for the launch, but I wouldn’t put any money on it.

  • Ray Van Dune: Jay also emailed me about this typo. Now fixed. Thanks!

  • Dave Eastman: As I noted in another comment, that ’24 date was a typo, now fixed.

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