The Vulcan Centaur is a next generation rocket propelled heavy-lift launch vehicle under development by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to meet the demands of the United States Air Force's National Security Space Launch (NSSL) competition and launch program. ULA expects the first launch of the new rocket to occur no earlier than (NET) April 2021. Production of flight hardware is underway.
Vulcan configuration as of 2015 with sub-5.4 m Centaur
|Function||Launch vehicle - partial reuse planned|
|Manufacturer||United Launch Alliance|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Height||58.3 m (191 ft)|
|Diameter||5.4 m (18 ft)|
|Mass||546,700 kg (1,205,300 lb)|
|Stages||2 and boosters|
|Payload to LEO||34,900 kg (76,900 lb) (Vulcan Heavy Centaur)|
|Payload to GTO||16,300 kg (35,900 lb) (Vulcan Heavy Centaur)|
|Payload to GEO||7,200 kg (15,900 lb) (Vulcan Heavy Centaur)|
|First flight||April 2021 (planned)|
|Thrust||2,201.7 kN (495,000 lbf)|
|Diameter||5.4 m (18 ft)|
|Thrust||4,900 kN (1,100,000 lbf)|
|Fuel||CH4 / LOX|
|Second stage – Centaur V|
|Thrust||207.6 kN (46,700 lbf)|
|Specific impulse||448.5 seconds (4.398 km/s)|
|Fuel||LH2 / LOX|
|Second stage – ACES (proposed, mid-2020s)|
|Engines||4× RL10-C or 1× BE-3 engine (TBC)|
|Fuel||LH2 / LOX|
The Vulcan is ULA's first launch vehicle design, adapting and evolving various technologies previously developed for the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets of the USAF's EELV program. As an example, the first stage propellant tanks share the diameter of the Delta IV Common Booster Core, but will contain liquid methane and liquid oxygen propellants instead of the Delta IV's liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.
Vulcan's upper stage is the Centaur V, an upgraded variant of the Common Centaur/Centaur III currently used on the Atlas V. Current plans call for the Centaur V to be eventually upgraded with Integrated Vehicle Fluids technology to become the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES). Vulcan is intended to undergo the human-rating certification process to allow the launch of crew.
The Vulcan booster will have a 5.4 m (18 ft) outer diameter to support the methane fuel burned by the Blue Origin BE-4 engines. The BE-4 was selected to power Vulcan's first stage in September 2018 after a competition with the Aerojet Rocketdyne AR1.
A variable number of optional Graphite-Epoxy Motor-63XL (GEM-63XL) solid rocket boosters can be attached to the first stage. If fitted, one to three pairs of SRBs provide additional liftoff thrust, allowing the six-SRB Vulcan Centaur to launch a heavier payload than the highest-rated Atlas V 551 or Delta IV Heavy.
As of 19 October 2018, the current Vulcan Centaur payload figures were:
|Version||SRBs||Payload to LEO, kg||Payload to ISS, kg||Payload to Polar LEO, kg||Payload to GTO, kg||Payload to GEO, kg|
|Vulcan Centaur Heavy||6||34,900||31,400||27,900||16,300||7,200|
These capabilities are driven by the need to meet USAF NSSL requirements, with room for future growth. As can be seen, the direct GEO orbit is the most demanding, with Vulcan Centaur Heavy only 600 kg above the requirement.
By early 2014 it was clear that ULA would have to develop a new launch vehicle to replace its existing fleet. Additionally, the Atlas V booster uses a Russian RD-180 engine. Political considerations involving international sanctions during the Ukrainian crisis and a reliance on foreign hardware to launch critical national security spacecraft led to a push to replace the RD-180 with a U.S. built engine. Formal study contracts were issued by ULA in June 2014 to several U.S. rocket engine suppliers. ULA was also facing competition from SpaceX, then seen to affect ULA's core national security market of U.S. military launches, and by July 2014 the United States Congress was debating whether to legislate a ban on future use of the RD-180.
In September 2014, ULA announced that it had entered into a partnership with Blue Origin to develop the BE-4 liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid methane (CH4) engine to replace the RD-180 on a new first stage booster. At the time, ULA expected the new booster to start flying no earlier than 2019. ULA has consistently referred to Vulcan as a 'next generation launch system'.
On 13 April 2015, CEO Tory Bruno introduced the Vulcan, a new launch vehicle that would incorporate proven technologies, with the name selected by an online poll. ULA stated its goal was to sell the basic Vulcan for half the then-current $164 million price of a basic Atlas V rocket. Addition of strap-on boosters for heavier satellites would increase the price. The first launch was initially planned for 2019.
ULA announced an incremental approach to rolling out the vehicle and its technologies. Vulcan deployment was expected to begin with a new first stage based on the Delta IV's fuselage diameter and production process and initially expected to use two BE-4 engines, with the AR-1 as an alternate. The initial second stage was planned to be the Common Centaur/Centaur III from the Atlas V, with its existing RL-10 engine. A later upgrade, the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES), was conceptually planned for full development in the late 2010s and introduction a few years after Vulcan's first flight.
The planned ACES upper stage was announced to be liquid oxygen (LOX) and liquid hydrogen (LH2) powered by one to four rocket engines yet to be selected, and would include the Integrated Vehicle Fluids technology that could allow much longer on-orbit life of the upper stage, measured in weeks rather than hours.
Also announced during the initial 13 April 2015 unveiling was the 'Sensible Modular Autonomous Return Technology' (SMART) reuse concept. The booster engines, avionics, and thrust structure would be detached as a module from the propellant tanks after booster engine cutoff, with the module descending through the atmosphere under an inflatable heat shield. After parachute deployment, the module would be captured by a helicopter in mid-air. ULA estimated that this would reduce the cost of the first stage propulsion by 90%, with propulsion 65% of the total first stage cost.
Through the first several years, the ULA board of directors made quarterly funding commitments to Vulcan Centaur development. As of October 2018[update], the US government had committed approximately US$1.2 billion in a public–private partnership to Vulcan Centaur development, with future funding being dependent on ULA securing an NSSL contract.
By March 2016, the US Air Force had committed up to US$202 million of funding for Vulcan development. At that time, ULA had not yet estimated the total cost of Vulcan development, but CEO Tory Bruno noted that "new rockets typically cost $2 billion, including $1 billion for the main engine." ULA Board of Directors member and President of Boeing's Network and Space Systems (N&SS) division Craig Cooning said in April 2016 that he is confident that the US Air Force will invest in further funding of Vulcan development.
In March 2018, ULA CEO Tory Bruno said that Vulcan-Centaur had been "75 percent privately funded" up to that time. The USAF's goal with the next generation of Launch Service Agreements is to get out of the business of "buying rockets" and move to acquiring launch services from launch service providers, but U.S. government funding of launch vehicle development continues. In October 2018, ULA was awarded $967 million to develop a prototype Vulcan launch system as a part of the National Security Space Launch program.
Path to productionEdit
In late 2017, the upper stage was changed to the larger and heavier Centaur V, and the overall launch vehicle was renamed the Vulcan Centaur. The single core Vulcan Centaur will be capable of lifting "30% more" than a Delta IV Heavy, meeting the NSSL requirements.
In May 2018, ULA announced the selection of Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL10 engine for the Vulcan Centaur upper stage. In September 2018, ULA announced the selection of the Blue Origin BE-4 engine for Vulcan's booster.
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Methane rocket has a lower density so we have a 5.4 meter design outside diameter, while drop back to the Atlas V size for the kerosene AR1 version.
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table 10 of page 27
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