The maiden launch of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket is expected to slip by more than a year. ULA officials explained that revisions on the Vulcan’s development schedule were promoted by Air Force funding stipulations.
ULA chief operating officer, John Elbon revealed the revised development schedule during a panel discussion at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Symposium. “We are making good progress on the development,” he said. “Our first certification flight is targeted for April of ’21. We were really excited about the results of the Air Force LSA procurement. We’re off and marching.”
The changes to the Vulcan’s development schedule took many by surprise. Just last month, ULA officials confirmed a mid-202 launch date in a post announcing the selection of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine to power the Vulcan.
Replying to a tweet from Space News senior writer Jeff Foust, ULA revealed that the change had been promoted by Air Force funding requirements. The tweet stated, “While ULA was on schedule from a technical standpoint to meet 2020 target, once we reviewed the Air Force’s timeline in the LSA proposals & incorporated [additional] requirements into our plan, we aligned #VulcanCentaur launch dates to meet the Air Force schedule.”
While ULA was on schedule from a technical standpoint to meet 2020 target, once we reviewed the Air Force’s timeline in the LSA proposals & incorporated add'l requirements into our plan, we aligned #VulcanCentaur launch dates to meet the Air Force schedule https://t.co/sQpJOWUUvg
— ULA (@ulalaunch) October 24, 2018
The tweet refers to an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) Launch Service Agreement (LLA) awarded to ULA by the U.S. Air Force. The LLA was awarded to three operators, LA, Blue Origin and Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems earlier this month. The agreements called for the development of three “launch system prototypes” of which two would be selected for further procurement.
Air Force launches require significantly more than the average commercial launch. These launches are generally classified in the interest of National Security and, as a result, require operators to take additional measures that they may not otherwise. These measures are likely what has affected the Vulcan development schedule.