Vulcan Next Generation Launch System (NGLS)
Vulcan Centaur is ULA's next-generation, American rocket system. As a result of these agreements, the Vulcan Centaur will surpass current rocket capabilities and launch services at significantly lower costs, while still meeting the requirements of ULA’s cooperative research and development agreement with the U.S. Air Force to certify the Vulcan Centaur for national security space missions.
With the introduction of the Vulcan, ULA’s next generation launch system (NGLS), ULA is transforming the future of space launch — making it more affordable, accessible, and commercialized — and innovating to develop solutions to the nation’s most critical need: reliable access to space. The NGLS offers customers unprecedented flexibility in a single system. From low Earth orbit (LEO) to Pluto, the single-core NGLS does it all. This simple design is more cost-efficient for all customers, whether defense and national security, NASA science and human spaceflight, or commercial.
The NGLS will have an American engine, will offer the best value and with the introduction of the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) it will have greater capability than any other rocket on the market.
In step one, with a planned initial launch capability in 2019, Vulcan will exceed the capability of Atlas V, serving the vast majority of our customers’ mission needs. Step one of the NGLS consists of single booster stage, the high-energy Centaur second stage and either a 4-meter or 5-meter-diameter payload fairing. Up to four solid rocket boosters (SRBs) augment the lift off power of the 4-meter configuration, while up to six SRBs can be added to the 5-meter.
In step two, the Centaur second stage will be replaced by the more powerful ACES in 2023. With the addition of ACES, Vulcan will achieve the current capability of the Delta IV Heavy, which carries the largest payloads for critical customers.
This effort requires a significant amount of time, and ULA did not expect to have its new launch vehicle certified to launch national security satellites before 2020. Because it will take a number of years to get their new launch vehicle ready for competition, ULA anticipated needing to use the RD-180 engine in the meantime to support the current launch manifest.
The US government has been considering switching from the Russian RD-180 to US-made engines for years. In April 2014, a US Federal Court issued an injunction against sales of Russian-produced RD-180 engines to the United Launch Alliance, a U.S. importer of the rocket engine, in a move to punish Russia for its policies in Ukraine and Crimea.
In 2014, the United Launch Alliance transferred an unspecified sum to Blue Origin, a spaceflight venture owned by Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, to develop a prototype. However, despite numerous attempts to design an alternative, the Russian-produced RD-180 was still being used in the US-designed Atlas III and Atlas V expandable launch systems.
The Moscow-based producer and exporter of the RD-180 engines, NPO Energomash, contested that the investment will affect prospective exports of the Russian-produced engines to the US. ‘NPO Energomash will sell 20 more engines to the US by 2019,’ in full accordance with an agreement signed in December 2015 with RD Amross [a Florida-based joint venture], said Igor Arbuzov, general director of NPO Energomash.
According to Igor Afanasyev, editor-in-chief of the ?osmonautics News magazine, it could take as long as seven years for the U.S. to equip its space launch vehicles with the domestically made engines. “I’m not sure it is realistic to accomplish the project in five years”.
The US Air Force signed contracts with two US firms in an attempt to develop a domestic alternative to the Russian RD-180 engine used in National Security Space launches. The US Department of Defense estimated that potential investment in the project by the government and the two ventures could reach $1.1 billion.
ATK Launch Systems Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Orbital ATK Inc., Magna, Utah, was awarded on January 13, 2016 a $46,968,005 other transaction agreement for the development of three rocket propulsion system prototypes for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. This agreement implements Section 1604 of the Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the development of a next-generation rocket propulsion system that will transition away from the use of the Russian-supplied RD-180 engine to a domestic alternative for National Security Space launches. An other transaction agreement was used in lieu of a standard procurement contract in order to leverage on-going investment by industry in rocket propulsion systems.
This other transaction agreement requires shared cost investment with ATK Launch Systems Inc. for the development of prototypes of the GEM 63XL strap-on solid rocket motor, the Common Booster Segment (CBS) solid rocket motor, and an Extendable Nozzle for Blue Origin’s BE-3U upper stage engine. These rocket propulsion systems are intended for use on an Orbital ATK next generation launch vehicle. The GEM 63XL strap-on solid rocket motor is also intended for use on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle. The locations of performance are Magna, Utah; Iuka, Mississippi; Chandler, Arizona; and Los Angeles Air Force Base, California.
The work is expected to be completed no later than Dec. 30, 2019. Air Force fiscal 2015 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $46,968,005 are being obligated at the time of award. ATK Launch Systems Inc. is contributing $31,130,360 at the time of award. The total potential government investment, including all options, is $180,238,059. The total potential investment by ATK Launch Systems Inc., including all options, is $124,830,693. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with multiple offers received. The Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate, Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California is the contracting activity (FA8811-16-9-0002).
Aerojet Rocketdyne, Canoga Park, California, was awarded on February 29, 2016 a $115,312,613 other transaction agreement for the development of the AR1 rocket propulsion system prototype for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. This agreement implements Section 1604 of the fiscal 2015 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires the development of a next-generation rocket propulsion system that will transition away from the use of the Russian supplied RD-180 engine to a domestic alternative for National Security Space launches. An other transaction agreement was used in lieu of a standard procurement contract in order to leverage ongoing investment by industry in rocket propulsion systems. This other transaction agreement requires shared cost investment with Aerojet Rocketdyne for the development of a prototype of the AR1 engine, a booster stage engine intended for use on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan launch vehicle.
The locations of performance are Canoga Park, California; Sacramento, California; Centennial, Colorado; Huntsville, Alabama; Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; West Palm Beach, Florida; and Los Angeles Air Force Base, California. The work is expected to be completed no later than Dec. 31, 2019. Air Force fiscal 2015 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $52,200,000; and Air Force fiscal 2016 research, development, test and evaluation funds in the amount of $63,112,613 are being obligated at the time of award. Aerojet Rocketdyne is contributing $57,656,307 at the time of award. The total potential government investment, including all options, is $536,029,652. The total potential investment by Aerojet Rocketdyne, including all options, is $268,014,826. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition with multiple offers received. The Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate, Space and Missile Systems Center, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the contracting activity (FA8811-16-9-0003).
In February 2016 the U.S. Air Force awarded a $46.6 million contract to ULA and Blue Origin, a privately funded aerospace company owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The contract will enable ULA and Blue Origin to continue work to integrate Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine into ULA’s new Vulcan launch system, which will replace the Atlas V and will be built in Decatur. A new type of engine, the BE-4 burns a mixture of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas - LNG, a viable form of methane. ULA said the BE-4 offers the fastest path to a domestic alternative to the Russian-built engine.
The BE-4 uses the latest design and manufacturing techniques, it’s made for both commercial and government missions. The BE-4 uses oxygen-rich staged combustion of liquid oxygen and liquefied natural gas to produce 550,000 lb. of thrust. The BE-4 is currently under development and will be flight-ready in 2017.
Liquefied natural gas is commercially available, affordable, and highly efficient for spaceflight. Unlike other rocket fuels, such as kerosene, liquefied natural gas can be used to pressurize a rocket’s propellant tanks. This is called autogenous pressurization and eliminates the need for costly and complex pressurization systems, like helium. Liquefied natural gas also leaves no soot byproducts as kerosene does, simplifying engine reuse.
United Launch Alliance (ULA)–maker of the Atlas V and Delta IV launch systems–has chosen the BE-4 to power its next generation Vulcan launch vehicle. The BE-4 engine will be used on Blur Origin's New Glenn family of launch vehicles. The first stage will use seven BE-4 engines and the second stage will use a single BE-4 engine.
Blue Origin argues that the engine proposed by the alternative engine developer is marketed as a “drop-in replacement” for the RD-180, but development of a true drop-in replacement for the RD-180 would pose severe technical challenges. The RD-180 operates at the utmost edge of high performance, with an extremely high chamber pressure of 3,700 psi and turbopump outlet pressures of more than 8,000 psi. In reality, the alternative engine proposal would result in an engine with lower performance than the RD-180 and would require significant changes to the launch vehicle to meet the required payload capability.
The BE-4 was designed from the beginning to be a moderate performing variant of the high performance oxygen-rich staged combustion cycle architecture – a conscious design choice to lower development risk while meeting performance and schedule requirements. Two BE-4 engines provide a combined total of 1.1 million pounds of thrust, which provides a greater payload capability relative to the RD-180.
Millennium Engineering and Integration Co., Arlington, Virginia, was awarded a $9,951,573 cost-plus-fixed-fee task order on Feb. 22, 2018 for Vulcan launch systems and Next Generation Launcher launch systems new entrant certification support. This task order provides for systems engineering and integration services for the government during certification of the Vulcan and Next Generation Launcher systems. Work will be performed in Decatur, Alabama; Chandler, Arizona; Los Angeles Air Force Base, California; Vandenberg Air Force Base, California; Centennial, Colorado; Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida; Bacchus, Utah; Promontory, Utah; and Kent, Washington. Work is expected to be complete by Feb. 21, 2019. This award is the result of a competitive acquisition and six offers were received. Fiscal 2018 procurement funds in the amount of $9,951,573 are being obligated at the time of award. Space and Missile Systems Center Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate Contracting, Los Angeles Air Force Base, California, is the contracting activity (FA8811-17-F-4001).
On Sept. 27, 2018, following completion of a competitive procurement, ULA has selected Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for Vulcan Centaur’s booster stage. The liquefied natural gas (LNG) fueled booster will be powered by a pair of BE-4 engines, each producing 550,000 pounds of sea level thrust. As previously announced, ULA has selected Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 engine for the Centaur upper stage, Northrop Grumman solid rocket boosters, L-3 Avionics Systems avionics, and RUAG’s payload fairings and composite structures for the new Vulcan Centaur rocket system.
United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) next-generation rocket - the Vulcan Centaur - is making strong progress in development and is on track for its initial flight in mid-2020. The Vulcan Centaur rocket design leverages the proven success of the Delta IV and Atlas V launch vehicles while introducing advanced technologies and innovative features. “Vulcan Centaur will revolutionize spaceflight and provide affordable, reliable access to space for our current and future customers,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO. “We are well on our way to the introduction of Vulcan Centaur – the future of U.S. rocket manufacturing. With state-of-the-art engineering and manufacturing techniques, this rocket is designed specifically for low recurring cost.”
The new rocket design is nearing completion, and the booster preliminary design and critical design reviews have been completed. Vulcan Centaur will have a maximum liftoff thrust of 3.8 million pounds and carry 56,000 pounds to low Earth orbit, 33,000 pounds to a geo-transfer orbit and 16,000 pounds to geostationary orbit with greater capability than any currently available single-core launch vehicle. “Our new rocket will be superior in reliability, cost and capability – one system for all missions,” said Bruno. “We have been working closely with the U.S. Air Force, and our certification plan is in place.”
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