United Launch Alliance plans to conduct a flight readiness firing (FRF) test of its Vulcan Centaur rocket at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Wednesday. The test is one of the final steps before the rocket’s first certification launch, dubbed Cert-1, which will carry a lunar lander for Astrobotic, demonstration satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper internet constellation, and a memorial flight for Celestis. The Vulcan Centaur rocket will undergo two certification test flights before it can start launching national security missions. Sierra Space, a customer, said the Vulcan Cert-2 launch is still tracking towards a mid-December liftoff.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is hoping for a successful flight readiness firing (FRF) test of its Vulcan Centaur rocket on Wednesday at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. This test is one of the last steps towards getting the rocket to its first certification launch, dubbed Cert-1. The mission will carry a lunar lander for Astrobotic, two demonstration satellites for Amazon’s Project Kuiper internet constellation, and a memorial flight for Celestis. ULA conducted two previous FRF tests in May, but encountered some complications during the countdown procedures. Following the decision to stand down from the most recent attempt on May 25, the company found an issue in the Vulcan booster.
If successful, this would be the first firing of the Blue Origin BE-4 engines integrated into the Vulcan booster. They’ve previously gone through a series of certification tests apart from the booster. Following this first launch, ULA aims to launch the Vulcan rocket at least one more time in 2023 for its second certification flight. The rocket will undergo two certification test flights before it can start launching national security missions.
Sierra Space, one of ULA’s customers, said the Vulcan Cert-2 launch is still tracking towards a mid-December liftoff. In a statement to Spectrum News in May, Sierra Space confirmed it was tracking a launch no earlier than December 15 of its Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. That mission, dubbed Demo-1 by Sierra Space and Cert-2 by ULA, would be the first flight of the Dream Chaser spaceplane and mark the third vehicle available to NASA to use as part of the Commercial Resupply Services program.
On May 31, Sierra Space said it successfully powered up the spacecraft for the first time and “simulated the power that will be generated from Dream Chaser’s solar arrays once in orbit.” This is a milestone that points towards the spacecraft being on track for its mid-December launch.
ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket is one of the company’s newest rockets, designed to replace the Atlas V and Delta IV rockets. The Vulcan Centaur is a heavy-lift rocket that can carry up to 56 metric tons to low Earth orbit (LEO) and 13 metric tons to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). The rocket uses a new Centaur upper stage, which is powered by two RL10 engines, and a new booster powered by two BE-4 engines.
ULA is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing, and has been launching rockets since 2006. The company has launched more than 140 rockets, with a 100% mission success rate. ULA is one of two companies certified by the US Air Force to launch national security payloads into space, the other being SpaceX.
If the FRF test is successful, it will be a significant milestone for ULA and the Vulcan Centaur rocket, which is set to become one of the most powerful rockets in the world. The rocket’s first launch, Cert-1, is expected to take place later this year, and will mark the start of a new era in spaceflight for ULA and its customers.
ULA will be livestreaming the FRF test on its YouTube page at 6 pm EDT on Wednesday.