SpaceX Rival ULA Plans to Cut Rocket Launch Costs By 70 Percent

Sunday, 25 February 2018 - 12:45PM
Space
SpaceX
Sunday, 25 February 2018 - 12:45PM
SpaceX Rival ULA Plans to Cut Rocket Launch Costs By 70 Percent
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Flickr/Michael Seeley
SpaceX has been gradually creating a new, corporate space race with their rocket launches, and their successful Falcon Heavy launch (successful in both the launch itself, and the popularity it received) only escalated tensions among their competitors.

And one of those competitors, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Boeing called United Launch Alliance (ULA), is making some major progress. According to Business Insider, ULA is working on a potential Falcon Heavy competitor called the Vulcan - and much like SpaceX's Falcon line of rockets, the Vulcan will be completely reusable after launches.

Because despite being such a major player in the rocket industry, with two aerospace giants behind them, ULA's previous centerpiece was their Delta IV Heavy rocket which cost a whopping $350 million to launch. This is in contrast to SpaceX's Falcon Heavy costing only $90 million per launch, mostly because of its reusability



Vulcan's cost won't be finalized until its first flight sometime in 2020, but it should have a similar cost, which is 70% less than before. And the Vulcan will be a modular rocket, capable of carrying up to 40 tons into low-Earth orbit. It still doesn't match up to the approximately 70 tons that the Falcon Heavy can lift, but it's getting there.

According to ULA CEO Tony Bruno, there are other things which would set Vulcan apart, particularly its use of cryogenic oxygen and hydrogen fuel, instead of the Falcon Heavy's kerosene fuel which can freeze in space after only a few hours. He said the following to Business Insider:

Opening quote
"Sometimes it's more than just, 'Hey my rocket's really big.' Sometimes you need the rocket to do some rather unique and exotic things after they're up in orbit."
Closing quote


What's also interesting is the Vulcan's planned upper-stage addition called the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (or ACES), which can fly in orbit for months and be easily fueled, so it wouldn't need to be simply discarded. Bruno continues:

Opening quote
"It's not just saving a little bit of money off the launch service cost. This could become a transportation system that enables economic activity between here and the moon, and between the asteroids."
Closing quote


Until the Vulcan rocket actually launches in a couple years, it's hard to tell whether or not it could compete with the Falcon Heavy, because even now, it's basic stats don't quite match up. But SpaceX hasn't done much with their own rocket besides launching Elon Musk's Tesla into space, so they still have a lot to prove as well.

But SpaceX and Boeing (which co-owns ULA) have both claimed they'll get one of their rockets to Mars first, so Vulcan could become Boeing's champion in that contest.
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