United Launch Alliance Names Next-generation Rocket ‘Vulcan’

An artist's conception shows United Launch Alliance's Vulcan rocket blasting off. (PHOTO CREDIT: ULA)
An artist’s conception shows United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket blasting off. (PHOTO CREDIT: ULA)

Falcon vs. Vulcan? United Launch Alliance turned to a “Star Trek” favorite, Vulcan, to name its next-generation rocket, which is due for its maiden launch in 2019 with a new breed of U.S.-made engine. The Vulcan is being positioned as the main U.S. rival for SpaceX’s Falcon line of rockets.

ULA went with the top choice from an online poll to name what was previously known as the Next Generation Launch System. “As the company currently responsible for more than 70 percent of the nation’s space launches, it is only fitting that America got to name the country’s rocket of the future,” Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and CEO, said Monday in a news release.

Vulcan joins the Atlas and Delta lines of rockets that are offered by ULA, a joint venture involving the Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin.

During Monday’s big reveal at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Bruno also unveiled an plan to recover the Vulcan’s first-stage booster engines by using a helicopter to capture the heat-shielded, parachute-equipped engine package in midair as it descends. The initiative is called Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology, or SMART.

“This will take up to 90 percent of the propulsion cost out of the booster,” Bruno told The Denver Post.

SpaceX is working on a different approach to rocket reusability, which involves having the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage fly itself back to a landing pad. SpaceX has been working on that technology for years, and it’s due for another test as early as Tuesday during the launch of a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station.

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SOURCE: NBC News, Alan Boyle

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