EDITOR’S NOTE: See additional photos of the Vulcan booster at the bottom of this page.
United Launch Alliance’s first full-scale Vulcan booster with two Blue Origin BE-4 engines arrived at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on Saturday, the first time in more than a decade that a core stage from a new family of orbital-class rockets has rolled into the Florida launch facility.
The 110-foot-long (33.5-meter) rocket stage rolled off of ULA’s “RocketShip” transport vessel Saturday at Port Canaveral, towed by a truck into nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station for a test campaign expected to last several months. ULA shipped the Pathfinder Tanking Test, or PTT, booster to Florida for fit checks and rehearsals with the Vulcan’s ground systems.
Built by ULA in Decatur, Alabama, the rocket is the company’s first flightworthy Vulcan booster. Two methane-fueled BE-4 development engines are attached to the rear end of the rocket, but they won’t be fired as part of the checkout campaign at Cape Canaveral.
The Vulcan Centaur rocket is ULA’s next-generation launch vehicle, and is destined to replace the company’s existing fleet of Atlas and Delta rockets. The new rocket can fly with zero, two, four, or six solid rocket boosters, ULA has developed an upgraded version of the venerable hydrogen-fueled Centaur upper stage to fly atop the Vulcan rocket.
“This is our future,” said Ron Fortson, ULA’s director and general manager of launch operation.
The Vulcan core stage measures 17.7 feet (5.4 meters) in diameter, and contains aluminum propellant tanks for methane and liquid oxygen for the dual BE-4 engines. ULA teams in Alabama are finishing work on the Vulcan booster and Centaur upper stage for the first launch later this year. The pathfinder operations beginning this weekend in Florida won’t include the Vulcan’s strap-on solid rocket motors or Centaur upper stage.
A fully-stacked Vulcan Centaur won’t appear on the Cape Canaveral horizon until the next Vulcan booster arrives at the launch site for the inaugural flight.
The rocket stage that arrived at Cape Canaveral this week will return to Alabama at the end of the pathfinder tests to be fitted with pair of flight-ready BE-4 engines, then return to Florida for a future launch, according to ULA.
The first stop for the Vulcan booster will be ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility, located about quarter-mile south of pad 41 at Cape Canaveral. A new mobile launch table, called the Vulcan Launch Platform, is inside the vertical hangar.
The 1.3-million-pound (589-metric ton) Vulcan Launch Platform rolled out to pad 41 for the first time last month for initial testing. Fortson said ULA plans to lift the Vulcan booster onto the mobile platform’s launch mount as soon as Sunday.
The VIF itself was modified with new work platforms over the last couple of years to fit the Vulcan…