First ULA Vulcan Launch Apparently Slips to January

First ULA Vulcan Launch Apparently Slips to January

Tory Bruno, President and CEO of the United Launch Alliance, posted on X today that the first launch of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket “likely” will not take place on Christmas Eve as planned. The primary payload is a commercial lunar lander and it can only be launched on certain days when the Earth and Moon are properly aligned. Bruno mentioned that the next launch window is in January, suggesting a delay until then, though it was not a definitive statement.

ULA conducted a Wet Dress Rehearsal (WDR) on Friday, December 8, where they move the rocket to the launch pad, fuel it, and conduct a countdown as though they were going to launch, but stop just before the launch otherwise would take place.

On December 10, Bruno posted on X that Vulcan “performed well,” but ground systems “had a couple of (routine issues).”  They were not able to complete the WDR and he would like to do that before first flight “so XMAS eve is likely out. Next Peregrine window is 8 Jan.”

In a December 11 post, he added the problem was “ground side leaks” that have since been repaired and another WDR will be conducted on December 12.

Peregrine is Astrobotic’s lunar lander built as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The launch initially was scheduled for May, but a problem with Vulcan’s Centaur V upper stage delayed the launch until now. It was set for December 24 at 1:49 am ET, with additional opportunities on December 25 and December 26.

ULA did not webcast the December 8 WDR or provide details about it. and provided coverage using their own resources.

Bruno’s post stopped short of declaring the launch has slipped to January, but the fact he mentioned January 8 as the opening of the next window strongly suggested that’s the case. This window was open for three days. Replying to comments to his post, Bruno said the next window would be open for 4 days.

Over time, Vulcan will replace ULA’s legacy Delta and Atlas rockets. Unlike those two rockets, Vulcan is powered by liquid methane-liquid oxygen (methalox) engines built by Blue Origin.

Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines were two of the first three companies to win contracts from NASA in 2019 to launch commercial landers delivering small science and technology payloads to the Moon for NASA. Under these Public-Private Partnerships, the companies must provide the landers and purchase launch services, finding other customers to close the business case.

Both were supposed to launch in 2021, but delays in developing the landers and in this case the rocket have pushed them into 2024. Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C lander also is currently scheduled for launch in January, on a SpaceX Falcon 9. That launch window opens on January 12.


This article has been updated.

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