United Launch Alliance Unveils Vulcan Next-Gen Launch System

In April 2015, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced the details of its Vulcan platform, a next-generation launch system intended to end US reliance on Russian-built rocket engines. The goal of this new reusable rocket, which is planned to take flight in 2019, is to make future launch services affordable and accessible. Vulcan will have the capabilities to facilitate missions from low-Earth orbit all the way to Pluto.

"Because the next-generation launch system will be the highest-performing, most cost-efficient rocket on the market, it will open up new opportunities for the nation's use of space,” said ULA president and CEO Tory Bruno in a statement at the 31st Space Symposium. "Whether it is scientific missions, medical advancements, national security or new economic opportunities for businesses, ULA's new Vulcan rocket is a game-changer in terms of creating endless possibilities in space." Last month, ULA launched an online naming competition that allowed Americans to play a role in the future of space. Over 1 million votes were cast and Vulcan came out on top.

Vulcan features a supercharged booster with recoverable engines, and a new upper stage capable of recycling gaseous oxygen and hydrogen to power other subsystems. Vulcan’s core stage is powered by a pair of liquefied natural gas-fed Blue Origin BE-4 engines. The move is part of a broader push to end the country's reliance on Russian-built RD-180 engines, which power the Atlas V. Up to six solid rocket boosters can be added to Vulcan, one more than the five available on Atlas flights. Vulcan comes with larger fuel tanks to take advantage of the dual BE-4s, which produce up to 550,000 pounds of thrust each for a total of 1.1 million, an improvement over the 930,000 pounds available from a single RD-180, which currently powers the Atlas V.

The Boeing Company is an American global designer and manufacturer of airplanes, rotorcraft, rockets, and satellites. It also provides leasing and product support services to a multinational customer base. Lockheed Martin is a global security and aerospace company that is principally engaged in the research, design, development, manufacture, integration and sustainment of advanced technology systems, products and services.

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