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United Launch Alliance Unveils Plans, Name for Vulcan Rocket to Fly from Vandenberg AFB

This scren shot shows Tory Bruno, president and CEO of the United Launch Alliance, at the podium, after he revealed the Vulcan rocket Monday in Colorado, an announcement the firm webcast.
This scren shot shows Tory Bruno, president and CEO of the United Launch Alliance, at the podium, after he revealed the Vulcan rocket Monday in Colorado, an announcement the firm webcast. (Courtesy photo)

The next-generation rocket being developed by United Launch Alliance will include the best features of the company’s current Atlas and Delta space boosters while borrowing its name from Star Trek.

ULA President/CEO Tory Bruno unveiled the Vulcan rocket on Monday at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado.

His announcement about ULA’s Next Generation Launch System included revealing the results of a public vote to name the new rocket, which will blast off from Vandenberg Air Force Base and Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station

With the new launch system designed as America’s ride to space, Bruno said he decided America should have a hand in naming it. He figured a few thousand people would get involved in the company’s vote.

“I was astonished at what happened,” Bruno said. “The passion and enthusiasm around this literally blew me away.”

More than 1 million votes were cast with the field narrowed to three candidates — Galaxy One, Zeus and Vulcan — before Bruno announced the homage to Star Trek won the honor. Other possible names were Eagle and Freedom.

It’s not the first space vehicle tied to science fiction. Elon Musk, founder of ULA’s competitor, Space Exploration Technologies, has said the Falcon rocket is named for the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.

On Monday, Bruno revealed the much-anticipated name after first talking about the firm’s new rocket family — “I’m a rocket scientist, I’m sorry I just have to do that,” the Cal Poly alum said.

The new launch system will be developed in four steps, Bruno said.

“It’s going to take the best parts of Delta and Atlas and combine them with new and advanced technology to provide a rocket that is not just as reliable and certain as Atlas has been, but also much more powerful, higher performance, greater flexibility and significantly more affordable,” Bruno said.

ULA plans to trim the current inventory of five launch pads to two — one each at Vandenberg and Cape Canaveral. Bruno said specifics would come out later this year. 

Currently, Atlas V rockets blast off from Space Launch Complex-3 East at Vandenberg while Delta IV flies from SLC-6, the former space shuttle facility. Both are located on South Base.

Among key features of Vulcan rocket will be American-made engines. ULA previously partnered with Blue Origin LLC, a privately funded aerospace company owned by founder Jeff Bezos, to develop a cutting-edge engine.

The new engine will replace the Russian-made RD-180s engines, which have proven controversial amid rocky relations between the United States and the former Soviet Union 

An early version of the new rocket will fly in 2019, using the current Centaur upper stage that boosts payloads to where they need to be in orbit. 

The second step involves “a giant step forward” by creating an advanced upper stage, Bruno said.

Ultimately, ULA intends to reuse the most expensive portion of a rocket’s first stage — the booster main engines — by performing a mid-air capture of their return as Vulcan aims to make space flight affordable and accessible.

“More capabilities in space mean more capabilities here on earth,” Bruno said. “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.”

United Launch Alliance, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and The Boeing Company, formed in 2006.

“This is an absolutely thrilling time to be involved in space,” Bruno said, noting ULA’s 100th rocket is set to blast off this summer. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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