ULA Vulcan rocket begins journey to Florida launchpad ahead of first liftoff

ULA's new Vulcan rocket is making the 2,000-mile journey from Alabama to Florida before its first mission launching Astrobotic's moon lander.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – New year, new you? How about new year, new rocket? After years of development, United Launch Alliance is one step closer to launching the Vulcan rocket from Florida in early 2023.

The company revealed this week the first complete Vulcan Centaur rocket had begun its journey from ULA's rocket factory in Alabama to the launch complex in Florida.

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

ULA had been waiting on BE-4 rocket engines from Blue Origin, which were delivered in October, to complete the rocket. Now that the engines have been installed in Alabama, the rocket is ready for its final trip on Earth.

"The first Vulcan is complete, and we look forward to the test flight this year," ULA CEO Tory Bruno said. "Vulcan is a powerful rocket with a single core booster that is scalable for all missions, including heavy class performance normally requiring a Delta IV Heavy configuration."


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 Vulcan will make the 2,000-mile journey on ULA's R/S Rocketship vessel.

Bruno tweeted that Vulcan Centaur V's move from the hangar to the ship was delayed Thursday when ULA teams had to shelter for a Tornado Warning. A severe weather outbreak across the South on Thursday spawned several confirmed tornadoes in Alabama, killing at least seven people.

Once Vulcan is offloaded in Cape Canaveral, ULA will inspect the vehicle and process the rocket for launch. 

After undergoing flight readiness tests, ULA will conduct a full launch wet dress rehearsal. During this final hot fire test, ULA will fire up the BE-4 engines, but the rocket will remain firmly on Earth.

When it happens, the Vulcan rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida

The first mission for the Vulcan will be sending Astrobotic's Peregrine lander to the moon. Based in Pittsburgh, Astrobotic 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.

ULA and Astrobotic are targeting early 2023 for launch.