As I was posting about on Mastodon, early this morning United Launch Alliance (ULA) successfully launched their new Vulcan Centaur rocket into space from their launch site in Florida. The rocket carried the first US moon lander (Peregrine) from a private company (Astrobiotic), as well as a whole range of science experiments, part of the remains of several people, and even a collection of stories from writers.
The key point is that the rocket launched successfully!
As I wrote about back in my November 3rd issue of my “A View From the Crow’s Nest” newsletter, we are currently in this strange spot where there has been only ONE launch provider - globally - that has been consistently launching rockets… SpaceX.
And SpaceX has done AMAZING work! In 2023 they launched an incredible 98 rockets (96 Falcon 9s, 2 Starships) from four different launch locations. That’s a launch cadence that is truly amazing.
But as amazing as the SpaceX team is, it’s a bit scary from a resilience point-of-view to have only one company consistently launching systems into space. It would be good for all of us to have more competition.
And meanwhile, ULA in 2023 launched a grand total of… *3* rockets.
Largely because ULA is running out of its Atlas and Delta rockets and has been betting everything on this new Vulcan Centaur. However, as the Wikipedia page notes, the Vulcan Centaur has been in the works since 2014. It was supposed to first launch 5 years ago in 2019… and then it was delayed… and delayed… and delayed… and delayed… until today!
So it is great to see this successful launch. Hopefully this will lead to many more.
But we’ll have to see.
Right now ULA has only booked six launches over the rest of 2024 … while SpaceX is reportedly shooting for 144 launches! ULA could of course book more, particularly now that they’ve had a successful launch. But they are still far away from the volume and cadence that SpaceX is achieving.
And, as Eric Berger wrote in an excellent piece over at ArsTechnica, it’s not clear where ULA is heading as a company. There seems to be a good bit of tension between the company and its Boeing and Lockheed owners. And the owners are also putting the company up for sale. (The Wikipedia article about ULA is a good read.)
The good news for now is that the Vulcan Centaur’s first launch was successful. Hopefully their next will be as well, and they can start launching more and more satellites and systems.
Meanwhile, SpaceX will keep launching and launching and launching…
Image credit: Tweet from ULA