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ULA launches first next generation Vulcan rocket

The most 3D printed ULA launcher to date features parts from Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman

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United Launch Alliance (ULA) marked the beginning of a new era of space capabilities with the successful launch of its next-generation Vulcan rocket on Jan. 8 at 2:18 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. The Vulcan provides industry-leading capabilities to deliver any payload, at any time, to any orbit. It is also ULA’s most 3D printed rocket ever, with dozens of engine parts additively manufactured by tier-1 suppliers Blue Origin for the BE-4 engines and Northrop Grumman for the GEM-63XL solid rocket booster. Many if not all of these parts were designed using nTop software.

“Vulcan’s inaugural launch ushers in a new, innovative capability to meet the ever-growing requirements of space launch,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO. “Vulcan will provide high performance and affordability while continuing to deliver our superior reliability and orbital precision for all our customers across the national security, civil and commercial markets. Vulcan continues the legacy of Atlas as the world’s only high-energy architecture rocket.”

ULA launches first next generation Vulcan Rocket, featuring 3D printed parts from Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman

Vulcan will leverage the world’s highest-performing upper stage to deliver on ULA’s industry-leading legacy of reliability and precision. Centaur V’s matchless flexibility and extreme endurance enable the most complex orbital insertions within the most challenging and clandestine orbits.

Blue Origin completed its delivery of the first BE-4 shipset for United Launch Alliance (ULA) in October 2022, shipping the engines to ULA’s factory in Decatur, AL after final acceptance testing. Each BE-4 engine provides 550,000 pounds of thrust and has completed an extensive development program. Dozens of these engines are now in production to support a large and growing demand for civil, commercial, and defense launches.

Two of Northrop Grumman’s extended-length, 63-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEM 63XL) solid rocket boosters helped power this inaugural flight of ULA’s Vulcan rocket. The GEM 63XL boosters are the longest monolithic, single-cast solid rocket boosters ever manufactured and flown. The launch represented the first flight of the GEM 63XL solid rocket boosters which delivered more than 900,000 pounds of thrust, nearly two-thirds of the vehicle’s total thrust at lift-off.

“The successful development and flight of this evolutionary rocket is a true testament to the unrivaled dedication and ingenuity of our workforce,” said Mark Peller, vice president of Vulcan Development. “Vulcan’s purpose-built design leverages the best of what we’ve learned from more than 120 combined years of launch experience with Atlas and Delta, ultimately advancing our nation’s space capability and providing unprecedented mission flexibility.”

The first certification flight (Cert-1) mission included two payloads: Astrobotic’s first Peregrine Lunar Lander, Peregrine Mission One (PM1), as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative to deliver science and technology to the lunar surface, and the Celestis Memorial Spaceflights deep space Voyager mission, the Enterprise Flight.

Unfortunately, the Peregrine lunar lander malfunctioned after separating from the launcher as a failure within the propulsion system caused a critical loss of propellant. The team worked to try and stabilize this loss, but given the situation, decided to prioritize maximizing the science and data that can be captured giving up on the first private moon landing attempt.

The Cert-1 mission served as the first of two certification flights required for the U.S. Space Force’s certification process. The second certification mission (Cert-2) is planned to launch in the coming months, followed by a summer launch of the first Vulcan mission to support national security space.

“As we build on today’s successful launch, the team will continue to work towards our future bi-weekly launch rate to meet our customers’ manifest requirements, while continuing to develop future Vulcan upgrades including SMART reuse plans for downrange, non-propulsive recovery of Vulcan engines,” said Bruno.

ULA has sold more than 70 Vulcan launches to date, including 38 missions for Amazon’s Project Kuiper and multiple national security space launch missions as part of the country’s Phase 2 launch procurement.

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Davide Sher

Since 2002, Davide has built up extensive experience as a technology journalist, market analyst and consultant for the additive manufacturing industry. Born in Milan, Italy, he spent 12 years in the United States, where he completed his studies at SUNY USB. As a journalist covering the tech and videogame industry for over 10 years, he began covering the AM industry in 2013, first as an international journalist and subsequently as a market analyst, focusing on the additive manufacturing industry and relative vertical markets. In 2016 he co-founded London-based VoxelMatters. Today the company publishes the leading news and insights websites and, as well as VoxelMatters Directory, the largest global directory of companies in the additive manufacturing industry.

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