LaunchRockets

ULA Sets Vulcan Cert-2 for September Without Dream Chaser

The ULA Vulcan rocket, which flew Cert-1, sits on the pad in Cape Canaveral. Image: ULA
The ULA Vulcan rocket, which flew Cert-1, sits on the pad in Cape Canaveral. Image: ULA

ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket will launch on its second certification in early September without the Dream Chaser space plane aboard, the company announced Wednesday. 

The change comes six weeks after DoD raised concerns about Vulcan’s readiness to fly national security missions after a series of delays and called for an independent review team to investigate how to speed up ULA’s launch tempo.

However, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser—which was expected to fly for the first time on the Vulcan launch—will remain behind after the company informed ULA it would not be able to make the launch date. Instead Vulcan’s payload will be an inert mass simulator and instruments to run tests on the rocket’s capabilities in orbit. 

What’s the hold up: Challenges in ULA’s supply chain have previously caused delays in Vulcan’s launch schedule.

Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin had some trouble developing and delivering the large methane rocket engines used to power Vulcan. Unfortunately, rocket engines aren’t yet available for Prime one-day delivery.

ULA CEO Troy Bruno told reporters at a media roundtable the root causes of these delays are being addressed, however. The company is actively building up its rocket reserves and infrastructure to support an increased launch cadence in the second half of 2024 and into next year.

“I have a great deal more confidence in Blue [Origin]’s ability to meet our needs than we would have been concerned about many months or a year ago. As I said, I have all the engines required for the 2024 manifest,” Bruno said.

A busy year ahead: So far this year, ULA has launched three times: the Vulcan Cert-1 flight in January, the final Delta IV Heavy launch in April, and the crewed Atlas V Starliner mission to the ISS this month.

ULA has five more launches scheduled before the year is through, and Bruno is confident there won’t be any delays on ULA’s end. These launches include two government Atlas V missions, the Vulcan Cert-2 flight, and—assuming ULA gets the OK from Space Force—two more Vulcan missions carrying national security payloads.

“I’ll have the rockets, all I need are the satellites and I should be able to fly them,” Bruno said.

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