Space force

Space Force acquisition chief to meet with ULA and Blue Origin, expects Vulcan to launch in December

Frank Calvelli said he wanted to make sure companies understand “the importance of achieving their goals”

WASHINGTON – US Space Force Acquisition Manager Frank Calvelli this week will visit the United Launch Alliance factory in Decatur, Alabama, and get an update on the company’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, a vehicle the US military has invested in and plans to use to launch national security satellites.

Calvelli, who has been in the job for less than two months, told reporters at the Pentagon on June 28 that he was aware of delays in the development of Vulcan’s prime engine, Blue Origin’s BE-4, and that is why he decided to put ULA and Blue Origin on this travel program as soon as possible.

“One of the first industry visits I want to make is over there to make sure they understand the importance of hitting their milestones with this engine delivery as well as with the launch,” said Calvelli.

Vulcan is years behind due to delays in the development and testing of the BE-4 engine that powers the first stage of the vehicle. ULA CEO Tory Bruno said the two flight engines needed for Vulcan’s first flight will be delivered this summer and Vulcan should be ready to fly. before the end of the year.

Calvelli said he expected Vulcan’s first launch in December. “That’s what I was told.”

ULA must begin flying Vulcan and successfully complete two commercial orbital missions in order to be certified to launch U.S. military and intelligence satellites as part of the National Security Space Launch Program. ULA is under contract, with SpaceXto launch up to 35 missions over the next five years.

Getting Vulcan certified as soon as possible is essential for the Department of Defense. ULA is currently launching NSSL missions with its Atlas 5 rocket, but the DoD cannot purchase any Atlas 5 launches beyond 2022 due to a congressional ban on using Russian rocket engines. The Atlas 5 uses the Russian-made RD-180 engines. ULA said it has sold all of its remaining Atlas 5s and just won a big deal with Amazon to launch the Kuiper broadband constellation, it is therefore imperative for the company to begin the transition to Vulcan and pilot a domestically produced engine.

Calvelli said he would be briefed on Vulcan’s status during his scheduled visit on June 30. “I’ve never had a good deep dive into what Vulcan is and what BE-4 is,” he said. “I’m going there on one of my first visits to the industry to make sure they know it’s really critical that they launch this year in December like they’ve committed to, that ‘they get delivery of these engines,’ he added. “So I’m going out there as an education to learn and to make sure Blue Origin and ULA know how essential that is.”

At this point, Calvelli said he had no particular concerns about the program, but thought it was important enough to warrant a visit. “I just want them to recognize that there’s someone new in town and that’s really important to me.”