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ULA hails ‘perfect’ Vulcan launch amid sale rumours

The chief executive of United Launch Alliance has hailed the “perfect” launch of his firm’s new Vulcan rocket amid speculation Blue Origin could buy the business.

Speaking at the SpaceCom conference, Tory Bruno praised the January mission’s “dead nominal flight” and “bullseye insertion”.

“I’ve done about three dozen first launches,” he said. “Generally, one of two things happen: either it blows up, or it has significant anomalies in flight.

“I have never seen as clean a first launch.”


United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between primes Boeing and Lockheed Martin, was formed in 2006 and was previously a dominant force in the global launch market.

It had traditionally used the Delta IV vehicle, developed by Boeing, and the Atlas V, developed by Lockheed, to blast off payloads.

The Vulcan was designed to replace both capabilities at a lower cost and eventually compete against SpaceX, which sent nearly 100 rockets into orbit last year.

The successful launch, though, increased speculation Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin could acquire the firm.


Bruno said the company took a unique approach to ensuring the inaugural launch would succeed.

“You can fly, fail, fix; nothing wrong with it,” he said but added his company instead had a “rigorous design process” to nip problems in the bud.

“Have your failures in ground tests, have them in the computer, have them in the sim lab and have them on paper. That’s how this was done, and my guys just did an outstanding job.”

Despite the successful launch, a malfunction did occur in the propulsion system of one of its client’s payloads, Peregrine.

The project was scheduled to attempt the first private moon landing this month, carrying payloads from seven countries, including scientific research by both the UK and US space agencies.

Astrobotic, the US company that built Peregrine, admitted a failure within the propulsion system led to a critical loss of its propellant.

The technical glitch is thought to have involved its solar cells pointing away from the sun, blocking its energy source.

Afterwards, the propellant leak was discovered by the team and reports later suggested contact was lost weeks later in January.

NASA’s chief, Bill Nelson, had hoped the independent project, which it backed with $108 million to carry five experiments, would be a “giant leap for humanity”.

The US space agency hopes to supplement its Artemis missions with commercial projects to help eventually facilitate the creation of a human base on the moon.

It’s in addition to NASA working with Australia to create a lunar rover that can collect lunar soil that will eventually be turned into oxygen to support astronauts.

Currently, two collaborations, ELO2 and Arose, are building prototypes.

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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