ULA targets May debut launch for its new Vulcan Centaur rocket

The new launch vehicle will lift a pair of Amazon's Starlink-rivaling Project Kuiper internet satellites.
Chris Young
The Vulcan rocket during tests.
The Vulcan rocket during tests.

ULA / Twitter 

United Launch Alliance (ULA) aims to fly its new Vulcan Centaur rocket within the next two months.

During a call with reporters on Feb. 23, ULA CEO Tory Bruno stated the company is targeting no earlier than May 4 for the debut launch of its new launch system, as per a Space.com report.

United Launch Alliance prepared for Vulcan Centaur debut launch

ULA's Vulcan Centaur rocket arrived at Florida's Cape Canaveral Space Force Station via ULA's RocketShip barge in late January. It has since been undergoing tests ahead of the rocket's debut launch.

The 202 feet (62 meters) tall Vulcan Centaur was designed to replace both ULA's Atlas V and its Delta IV rockets, which have now been operational for more than 20 years.

Vulcan Centaur features two Blue Origin-built BE-4 methane/liquid oxygen engines in its first stage and up to six solid rocket boosters. Once operational, it will be able to lift 7.7 tons to geostationary orbit.

For its very first launch, Vulcan will carry three separate payloads to different orbits. One of those, the Peregrine lunar lander from aerospace and robotics company Astrobotic Technology, will be lifted on a trip toward the moon. The debut launch could be postponed due to a number of factors, including the fact that the moon's placement is not always suited to the trajectory required to get the Peregrine lander on its way.

ULA will also soon lift astronauts to the ISS

The other payloads Vulcan Centaur will carry to orbit are a memorial capsule for a firm called Celestis as well as a pair of demonstration satellites for Amazon's Project Kuiper internet satellites.

ULA is part of what Amazon has dubbed "the largest commercial procurement of launch vehicles in history." The e-commerce giant has signed a massive agreement with various companies, including ULA and Jeff Bezos's other firm Blue Origin to perform 83 launches for its Project Kuiper service, which aims to compete with SpaceX's Starlink internet satellite mega-constellation.

ULA is also working toward the launch of the Crew Flight Test (CFT) for Boeing's Starliner capsule, which will launch aboard an Atlas V rocket. The company is targeting a May launch for that mission too, which will see Boeing's Starliner launch astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) for the very first time.

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