The first of a new generation of United Launch Alliance rockets has arrived at its Florida spaceport to prepare for a debut flight.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) engineers unloaded the first Vulcan Centaur rocket on Sunday (Jan. 22), rolling it off the company's RocketShip barge and onto dry land at Port Canaveral near its launch site, Cape Canaveral Space Force station. The new rocket will make its first flight in the next few months, if all goes according to plan, sending a private lunar lander to the moon alongside two Amazon internet satellites.
"The first flight items shipped include the Vulcan booster first stage interstage adapter and Centaur V upper stage," ULA officials wrote in a statement. "The hardware was transferred from RocketShip to ULA facilities at Cape Canaveral for post-arrival inspections and the start of launch preparations." The RocketShip barge delivered the Vulcan Centaur components from ULA's rocket factory in Decatur, Alabama.
Vulcan Centaur is a 202-foot-tall (67 meters) booster designed to replace ULA's workhorse Atlas V and Delta IV rockets for commercial and government missions. The rocket is equipped with a Centaur V upper stage and up to six solid rocket boosters to power its way to space. Its first stage is powered by two BE-4 methane-liquid oxygen engines built by Blue Origin.
"Make way, rocket coming through," ULA CEO Tory Bruno wrote on Twitter to celebrate the Vulcan Centaur's arrival. He also shared a time-lapse video of the booster's components rolling off the RocketShip barge.
"I don't know about you guys, but I just never get tired of seeing this," he added.
With its components in Cape Canaveral, the Vulcan Centaur rocket will undergo a series of checks and tests, and ultimately be assembled for flight at ULA's facilities at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. Its first mission, targeted for the first quarter of this year, will launch two prototype internet satellites for Amazon's Project Kuiper and the Peregrine moon lander built by the company Astrobotic.
"The Certification-1 launch will deliver two Project Kuiper demonstration satellites into low Earth orbit, place the Astrobotic Peregrine commercial lunar lander in a highly elliptical orbit more than 225,000 miles (360,000 km) above Earth to intercept the moon, and carry a Celestis Memorial Spaceflight Payload beyond the Earth-moon system to orbit the sun forever," ULA officials said.
Astrobotic's Peregrine lander will carry 24 payloads to the moon, including 11 for NASA as part of the agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services project.