Another heavy-lift launcher we’re excited about is the two-stage Vulcan Centaur, which is being developed by United Launch Alliance. The fully expendable 202-foot-tall (62-meter) rocket, in development since 2014, is set to replace ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets, both of which have been in use for the past two decades. “The Vulcan Centaur program was created by ULA to reduce costs, increase launch capabilities, and provide an opportunity to partner with United States companies to develop rocket engines that replace the current Atlas V Russia-supplied RD-180 engines.” according to to NASA.
The rocket’s first stage will be powered by two Blue Origin-built BE-4 methane-fueled engines. The booster can be assisted by up to six Northrop Grumman Graphite Epoxy Motor solid rocket boosters. With all six SRBs in play, the Vulcan Centaur should be able to lift 27.2 metric tons (60,000 pounds) into low Earth orbit and 6.5 metric tons (14,300 pounds) into geosynchronous orbit. (For comparison, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 can carry 22.8 metric tons to LEO.)
Vulcan’s first flight was supposed to take place in 2020, but the delay pushed it to 2022, which also did not happen. Interestingly, ULA now says it is ready to light this candle, with a May 4 launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Station in Florida. and a A demonstration pair of Project Kuiper Internet satellites For Amazon. Future launches include the first launch of the Dream Chaser spacecraft and several missions leased under the US Space Force’s National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program.