ULA targets early 2023 for first Vulcan rocket launch from Cape Canaveral with moon lander

Vulcan will use two BE-4 engines and solid rocket boosters to provide up to 3.8 million pounds of thrust.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. –A new rocket on the range will be welcomed after the new year for United Launch Alliance as the company prepares for the first launch of the Vulcan Centaur rocket.

ULA has been waiting on BE-4 rocket engines from Blue Origin that will provide the power to get Vulcan off the launchpad and into orbit. This week ULA CEO Tory Bruno shared photos of the BE-4 flight engines being unloaded at ULA's facility in Decatur, Alabama.

The company said the new engines will be installed on the first Vulcan rocket at the company's factory in Decatur. ULA is targeting November to ship the first completed Vulcan to Cape Canaveral, with the inaugural launch to follow early next year.

"This has been an incredible journey to get to this point, and I am so proud of the development team," Bruno said in a statement. "We look forward to the first flight as Vulcan offers all customers higher performance and greater affordability while continuing to deliver our unmatched reliability."

The Vulcan Centaur will replace ULA's workhorse rocket, the Atlas V rocket, which uses Russian-built RD-180 engines. Vulcan will use two BE-4 engines and solid rocket boosters to provide up to 3.8 million pounds of thrust.

After arriving at the Cape, Vulcan will undergo final tests and a launch dress rehearsal before a flight-readiness engine hot fire in December, according to ULA.

The Vulcan rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station. 

Vulcan can launch 56,000 pounds to low Earth orbit and can be customized with added solid rocket boosters for lunar missions. ULA can add up to six solid rocket boosters in the most powerful configuration. 

The first mission for the Vulcan will be sending Astrobotic's Peregrine lander to the moon. Based in Pittsburgh, Astrobotics was one of about a dozen companies selected under NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services program to deliver science payloads to the moon's surface.

Peregrine will also have time capsules sent up as part of Astrobotic's DHL Moonbox program, where people can purchase space on the lander. 

"We've got folks that are sending inscriptions of family names, and sometimes there are photos of families," Astrobotic CEO John Thornton told FOX Weather in February. "We even have some pet hair from a family pet that passed."

According to ULA, Peregrine will launch on a Vulcan Centaur with four solid rocket boosters. If testing goes well, Peregrine will be installed on the launch vehicle late this year. 

ULA was recently awarded the demonstration Amazon Kuiper Project launch contract but is also contracted to launch 47 missions for Amazon's satellite constellation.

The Kuiper Project will be a constellation of more than 3,200 satellites orbiting the Earth to provide space-based internet. The Kuiper Project will join several other competitors, including SpaceX's Starlink in providing global internet using satellites. Amazon said Kuipersat-1 and 2 would be completed later this year. 

The first Vulcan launch will carry Astrobotic's Peregrine lander, two demonstration satellites for Amazon's Project Kuiper and ashes from space-burial company Celestis.