ULA's Vulcan Centaur passes key engine test ahead of debut launch

When it does fly for the first time, Vulcan Centaur will lift two of Amazon's Starlink-rivaling Project Kuiper satellites to orbit.
Chris Young
The Vulcan Centaur first stage during the test.
The Vulcan Centaur first stage during the test.

United Launch Alliance 

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is one crucial step closer to the debut launch of its next-generation Vulcan Centaur rocket.

The Vulcan Centaur rocket passed a key engine test at 9:05 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, June 7, during which the rocket's first stage fired up its two engines on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida for the very first time.

Vulcan Centaur aces a key engine test

The test, called a flight readiness firing (FRF), saw the Vulcan Centaur's engines fire up for just a few brief moments, but ULA acquired the data they required and announced the test a success. You can watch the entire test, posted on ULA's Twitter page, via the embedded video below.

In an update on its website, ULA wrote that "The engine start sequence began at T-4.88 seconds, the engines throttled up to the target level for two seconds and then powered down. The entire FRF lasted for six seconds."

"We are more than 98 percent complete with the Vulcan qualification program, with the remaining items associated with the final Centaur V testing," the update continued. "The team is reviewing the data from the systems involved in today’s test and, in parallel, continue with the Centaur V test stand anomaly investigation. Pending the data review and the investigation results, we will develop a plan for launch."

ULA's 202-foot-tall (62 meters) Vulcan Centaur is the successor to the company's Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. The new launch system will be able to lift up to 7.7 tons of payload to geostationary orbit thanks to two Blue Origin BE-4 engines in its first stage and two RL-10 engines in the rocket's upper stage. If required, a further six strap-on solid rocket boosters can be added.

When will Vulcan Centaur launch for the first time?

ULA's next-generation rocket was recently slated to launch for the first time in early May. During a March 29 test, though, the rocket's first stage exploded on a test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama due to a hydrogen leak.

ULA's Vulcan Centaur passes key engine test ahead of debut launch
An artist's impression of a Vulcan Centaur launch.

Since that delay, ULA hasn't provided a concrete date for Vulcan Centaur's maiden flight. When it does launch for the first time, though, it will lift the Peregrine lunar lander, developed by Pittsburgh-based space company Astrobotic, as well as a pair of prototype satellites for Amazon's Starlink-rivaling Project Kuiper network.

"Testing is an integral part of our launch vehicle development program, and we will fly when we believe it is safe to launch," ULA wrote in its update. Stay posted for more updates ahead of the debut launch of Vulcan Centaur.

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