Space

ULA Vulcan launcher will return to Earth by helicopter

ULA Vulcan launcher will retur...
The Vulcan rocket will use a reusable booster engine configuration
The Vulcan rocket will use a reusable booster engine configuration
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Vulcan booster infographic
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Vulcan booster infographic
Advanced cryostage infographic
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Advanced cryostage infographic
Vulcan mission profile
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Vulcan mission profile
Vulcan distributed lift mission profile
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Vulcan distributed lift mission profile
Vulcan applications
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Vulcan applications
Vulcan logo
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Vulcan logo
Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with small fairing
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Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with small fairing
Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with small fairing
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Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with small fairing
Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with large fairing
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Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with large fairing
Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with large fairing
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Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with large fairing
Vulcan core
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Vulcan core
Vulcan with solid rocket booster
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Vulcan with solid rocket booster
The Vulcan rocket will use a reusable booster engine configuration
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The Vulcan rocket will use a reusable booster engine configuration
Diagram of Vulcan Stage One and Stage Two
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Diagram of Vulcan Stage One and Stage Two

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) has entered the reusable launcher race with its Next Generation Launch System (NGLS), also known as the Vulcan rocket. This replacement for the current generation of launch systems will incorporate a rocket engine assembly that jettisons from the first stage and is snared in mid-air by a helicopter after reentering the Earth's atmosphere.

Unveiled at the 31st Space Symposium, the Vulcan was named by popular vote last month that garnered one million entries. According to ULA, the new launch system will be able to deliver payloads to low-Earth orbit and deep space at reduced cost.

At the heart of the Vulcan is ULA's Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) initiative. Unlike the SpaceX Falcon 9, which is designed to fly back to the launch site, the SMART initiative involves developing an engine assembly that reuses the booster main engines. The assembly uses twin BE-4 engines burning methane and liquid oxygen, producing 1.1 million lb of thrust. The BE-4 was developed by Blue Origin, which is providing the engines to ULA in a partnership to replace the Russian-made RD-180.

Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with small fairing
Exploded view of Vulcan configuration with small fairing

In flight, the Vulcan lifts off like a conventional system, but after releasing its payload, the first-stage booster engine assembly detaches and re-enters atmosphere using an inflatable heat shield. After parachute deployment, the booster engine assembly is hooked and captured by a Chinook helicopter. The assembly is then recertified and reattached to a new Vulcan first stage. ULA says that this results in a 90 percent savings in propulsion costs because the engine assembly makes up 25 percent of the booster weight and 65 percent of the booster cost.

The American-made Vulcan is based on the Atlas and Delta launch vehicles and will use ULA's Centaur second stage with either a 4- or 5-m (13/16 ft) payload fairing and four to strap-on solid boosters on the first stage. In the Stage Two version, the Centaur will be replaced by a new, more powerful Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES); giving the Vulcan the lift capability of the Delta IV Heavy rocket. ULA says that the ACES can make almost unlimited burns, so its on-orbit time extends from hours to weeks

"More capabilities in space mean more capabilities here on Earth," says Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance. "Because the Next Generation Launch System will be the highest-performing, most cost-efficient rocket on the market, it will open up new opportunities for the nation’s use of space. Whether it is scientific missions, medical advancements, national security or new economic opportunities for businesses, ULA’s new Vulcan rocket is a game-changer in terms of creating endless possibilities in space."

The video below introduces the Vulcan.

Source: ULA

Vulcan: America's Next Generation Launch System

5 comments
Michiel Mitchell
funny how costs savings suddenly became something the customer now actually needs... in the rocket Arena... Wonder where that came from? SpaceX has successfully started what should have been the norm, centuries ago.
dugnology
Like the Japanese cars that 'forced' American manufacturers to produce quality vehicles, this is a welcome competitor to Space-x. I have no doubt that the Boeing/Lockheed will make a very successful and reliable product, but I also know that the price is huge. Competition will actually help them in the long run.
Joseph Talbot
Less than vapor ware. Space X will land a rocket successfully before ULA even makes an animated video of what their alleged vehicle.
JimPike
How does it save 90% in propulsion costs by recovering engines composing 65% of the booster cost? Looks more like saving 65% - (recovery, refurbishment and reassembly costs) or maybe, optimistically, 35% of the booster cost. Is it that the Russians are profiteering that much on their RD-180s? If so,I guess they've learned Capitalism supply and demand 8>) The helicopter recovery has been demonstrated many years ago for recovering film from spy satellites but the inflatable heat shield and parachute recovery system would probably cost as much in fuel as the SpaceX system. If SpaceX can bring back a complete booster to a soft landing near the launch point it is unlikely even they could save 90% considering the costs of re-certifying the booster for relaunch. The more competition, the better, though.
Gregg Eshelman
How fast will that booster be dropping? Does it have a stabilization system to keep it from tumbling? A Chinook can lift a lot of weight, but that's from stationary on the ground. A plummeting rocket booster is going to hit the catching equipment pretty fast and hard. It's not going to be a relative lightweight like the Corona spy film capsules were.