The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Certification-1 (Cert-1) rocket performs the Flight Readiness Firing FRF) at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in preparation for the inaugural flight. A view of the rocket firing on SLC-41, a thick cloud of smoke emerging from the flame trench

Successful first static fire of Vulcan, ULA’s new rocket

On the evening of June 7, 2023, the Vulcan Centaur rocket, developed by United Launch Alliance, performed a successful first static fire

Following an afternoon of tests and countdown rehearsals, on the evening of June 7, 2023, Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral heard the first roar of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket.

The Flight Readiness Firing went smoothly and was a complete success.

The prototype, consisting of Vulcan’s first stage and its Centaur upper stage, fired its two Blue Origin made BE-4 engines for a handful of seconds, providing fundamental data on the rocket’s main systems and the entire launch pad infrastructure and software that will support a future launch.


About Vulcan

In an increasingly competitive and diverse Space Economy that has been developing over the last few years, ULA’s main objectives, to achieve with this project that is now reaching its final stages, are:

  • Reducing costs of sending payload to orbit, keeping on track along other competitors.
  • Enhancing performance of its current technologies and developing new ones, aiming to be more reliable, cost-efficient, and able to adapt to different requests and requirements.

Vulcan is built on United Launch Alliance’s decades-long experience, it features two stages and a 5.4 meter wide fairing, available in two versions: standard, specifically 15.5 m, and long, 21.3 m.

An exploded-view rendering of United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket's main components, with captions highlighting each one.
An exploded-view rendering of Vulcan Centaur’s main components. Credits: United Launch Alliance

The second stage, called Centaur V, is derived from Centaur III, currently used as second stage in the ULA Atlas V rocket. It is powered by two RL10C engines that provide 106 kN of thrust. This family of engines, using liquid hydrogen and oxygen as propellants, was first introduced back in 1962.

It’s on the first stage that we find most of the new hardware, assembled in ULA’s facility in Decatur, Alabama, that is undergoing layout changes to accommodate the production of future Vulcan main components, such as the fuel tanks.

It is composed of a central booster, or first stage, and a varying number of solid rocket boosters (two to six). The SRBs are fundamental to adapt to the different mission requirements and therefore lower launch costs. The booster, standing 33 meters tall, is the result of a collaboration between ULA and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, providing the two main engines.



BE-4 are liquid methane and liquid oxygen staged combustion engines developed by Blue Origin. Each engine provides 2.4 MN of thrust at sea level and is capable of gimbaling up to 5°.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Certification-1 (Cert-1) rocket performs the Flight Readiness Firing FRF) at Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in preparation for the inaugural flight. Close-up view on Vulcan Booster stage's two BE-4 engines firing during the FRF.
Vulcan’s BE-4 engines firing during the static fire test. Credits: United Launch Alliance

The engines were initially planned to be used only on Blue Origin’s main project in development, the New Glenn heavy launch vehicle. However, the company reached an agreement with ULA in 2018 to provide BE-4s to power the Vulcan Rocket.

What’s left before the launch

After the successful booster static fire, the rocket has been transported back to ULA’s vertical integration building, while all the data gathered with the test is being analyzed.

ULA stated that the qualification for Vulcan is 98% complete, and the remaining issues to address concern the Centaur V second stage. On March 29, 2023, during a qualification testing run on a second stage test article, a hydrogen leak caused an unexpected explosion that damaged both the test stand and the test article used.

Since then, an investigation has been going on to ascertain the cause, and while ULA proceeded with the Flight Readiness Firing, and will be developing a plan for launch in the coming weeks, there is currently no set date for liftoff until the investigation will be completed.

When that happens, the fairing and payload will be mated with the rocket, and ULA will proceed with Vulcan’s maiden flight. The rocket will be transporting different spacecraft, among which is the Peregrine Lunar Lander developed by Astrobotic, under NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

Real scale model of Astrobotic Technologies' Peregrine 1 lunar lander, in display at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, for the announcement of the companies selected for Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) as part of NASA's Artemis program.
A life-size model of Astrobotic Peregrine 1 Lunar Lander. Credits: NASA/Goddard/Rebecca Roth


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Marco Guardabasso

Marco Guardabasso

Engineering student with a passion for space, photography and arranging music.

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