This evening, the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station will host the much-anticipated first engine firing test for the new Vulcan Centaur rocket.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) teams are diligently progressing through countdown procedures in preparation for the test, aiming to ignite the two Blue Origin-built BE-4 engines for the first time.
According to ULA, the test fire is a critical event that will help lay the groundwork for the rocket’s maiden launch this summer.
The Vulcan Centaur, a 200-foot rocket that arrived at the Space Coast in January, has been put through rigorous testing by ULA teams. From verifying fit on the launch pad to fueling its tanks and rehearsing mock countdown procedures, the ULA team has worked tirelessly to prepare for this moment.
Dillon Rice, ULA’s Vulcan launch conductor, stated, “FRF (Flight Readiness Firing) is about affirming the operational readiness of the integrated system: launch vehicle, ground systems, facilities, and associated software. We will also showcase our ability to successfully execute the engine start sequence and validate our hot-fire abort response procedures.”
The Vulcan Centaur has encountered difficulties during its testing phase. Earlier this month, during a tanking test, a minor issue was detected when flowing propellants through an ignitor on one of the BE-4 engines.
To rectify this, the rocket was returned to ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility for modifications.
Today’s test involves the rocket being restrained on the launch platform, running the engines up short of full power, and holding for several seconds. After the test fire, the rocket will be detanked, secured, and returned to the Vertical Integration Facility. Subsequent plans involve installing two solid rocket boosters and a payload ahead of the demonstration mission, which could occur as early as next month.
The Vulcan is set to replace ULA’s entire fleet of rockets, including the Delta IV, Delta IV Heavy, and Atlas V. Besides offering more power and lower costs, the new rocket will also address national security concerns as it will rely on American-made Blue Origin engines instead of the Russian-made RD-180 engines used by Atlas V.
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The inaugural mission for Vulcan, dubbed Certification-1, aims to fulfill certification requirements for future U.S. Space Force national security missions. The test flight will also carry two prototype broadband satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper.
Alongside this, a payload for the moon from Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic’s Peregrine commercial lunar lander will also be aboard.
This payload will participate in NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, studying various lunar phenomena