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ULA Unveils Next Generation Launch System with a Little Showmanship

By Marc Boucher
April 14, 2015
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ULA Unveils Next Generation Launch System with a Little Showmanship
ULA Next Generation Launch System News Conference

At a news conference at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, United Launch Alliance (ULA) CEO Tory Bruno unveiled their Next Generation Launch System (NGLS) with a crowdsourced new name, Vulcan.
Showing some of the showmanship that Elon Musk of SpaceX has been known for, Bruno tried to follow in Musk’s footsteps ratcheting up the marketing hype to a level not seen in recent years at a ULA event.

Not only is Vulcan following in the SpaceX Falcon path in reusability, the rhetoric would suggest ULA is going further. It is doing so, they say, with their new Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) initiative, which will allow ULA to reuse the most expensive portion of the first stage, the booster main engines, and do so “via mid-air capture”. It seems there’s be no landing on land or drone ship for the Vulcan.

“More capabilities in space mean more capabilities here on earth,” said Tory Bruno, president and CEO of United Launch Alliance. “Because the Next Generation Launch System will be the highest-performing, most cost-efficient rocket on the market, it will open up new opportunities for the nation’s use of space. Whether it is scientific missions, medical advancements, national security or new economic opportunities for businesses, ULA’s new Vulcan rocket is a game-changer in terms of creating endless possibilities in space.”

Bruno said the cost per launch would be under $100 million without giving specifics including the development costs which ULA says will come from their current profits. But should the government choose to invest the system, they wouldn’t be opposed.

It’s clear Bruno is trying to respond to the SpaceX threat and is playing catch up. Having finally seen the SpaceX threat for what it is, real as opposed to hype, it was either step-up and compete or eventually lose their lucrative military launch contracts to SpaceX.

The first scheduled test launch of the new Vulcan is targeted for 2019. ULA has its work cut out for it. They are a different type of company than SpaceX, not as nimble, not willing to take the same risks, with a comfortable lucrative near monopoly in the military space launch sector. The times are a changing, and we’ll see if ULA can truly adapt to the times.

News Conference

ULA Sneak Peek at America’s Next Ride to Space

Vulcan: America’s Next Generation Launch System

SpaceRef co-founder, entrepreneur, writer, podcaster, nature lover and deep thinker.