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First Vulcan Centaur Launch Slips to 2024, ULA Completes Wet Dress Rehearsal

By Rachel Jewett | December 14, 2023

      The inaugural Vulcan rocket ahead of the wet dress rehearsal. Photo: United Launch Alliance

      ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket won’t debut until early 2024, after it encountered routine issues during the first wet dress rehearsal. ULA announced Thursday that it fixed the issues, ran a successful wet dress rehearsal, and is now targeting a Jan. 8 launch date. The launcher was previously targeting a Christmas Eve debut

      CEO Tory Bruno shared earlier this week on X that the ground system had a couple of leaks during the first wet dress rehearsal. He characterized them as “routine” issues and said they were fixed. 

      ULA said in a statement Thursday that it completed a full wet dress rehearsal on Dec. 12, which includes a full day-of-launch test to demonstrate the rocket, pad systems and launch team are ready for the first mission. ULA went through the entire countdown including fueling the rocket with cryogenic propellant and returning the vehicle to the integration facility afterward.

      Bruno said the remaining checklist before launch includes payload integration and testing. 

      The primary payload on the first mission is the Peregrine Lunar Lander for Astrobotic, which is part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. The payload requires a lunar insertion launch window, which pushes the mission to Jan. 8, when it will have a 45-minute launch window. 

      Peregrine will carry 21 payloads from governments, companies, universities, and NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The lander will attempt a soft landing at the Gruithuisen Domes on the Moon and support lunar surface payload operations for about 10 days. 

      This first mission for ULA’s anticipated Vulcan Centaur rocket was previously targeted for May of this year, but the Centaur V upper stage exploded during qualification testing in late March, grounding the launch campaign. ULA dealt with the issue, which was a leak in a weld on the hydrogen tank at the top of the structure from the load on the weld.