Author Topic: ULA Vulcan Rocket Q&A with ULA's Dr. George Sowers - April 14, 2015  (Read 68559 times)

Offline georgesowers

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Firstly, congratulations. Exciting time ahead.

I'm curious as to what specifically was meant by "pad innovations"? What new designs and methodologies will be developed?

Thanks and the very best of luck.

Ok, I'm back for a few minutes.  The space symposium can be hectic.  And I'm doing a redit AMA in a few minutes.

As we're slimming down to two pads, we are incorporating the flexibility to handle any spacecraft we foresee coming along in the next decade or so.  We are also working to dramatically reduce our span times.  More to come on this topic in the coming months.

Offline georgesowers

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Thanks Dr.Sowers for taking the time to answer our questions. We're all very excited about the preliminary details revealed in today's announcement.

My question is: What key factors set the architecture in favor of multiple solid boosters instead of a multiple common core configuration as seen on other heavy lifters such as the Delta IV Heavy, Falcon Heavy, Angara V?

We haven't ruled out a triple core Vulcan, but right now we don't see a need for that level of performance.  We can satisfy the current DIV heavy mission needs with 6 SRMs plus ACES.  In general, SRM's cost much less than a liquid core and allows the customer to buy performance in small increments. 

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers, very exciting presentation today. Thanks for taking our questions.

I have the following question: Isn't there a risk for ULA to team up with a competitor such as Blue Origin given that Blue's objective is to eventually make their own LV?

Thanks,

YG

We don't view it as a risk.  Blue is a great partner.  Their orbital vehicle aspirations are more long term and focused on fully reusable human spaceflight.  And provide other partnering opportunities.

Offline georgesowers

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Could you please elaborate on the distributed launch option?

I would really like to know the kind of mass you could put in GTO or GEO if the first launch is a fuel tanker. How would it compare to the Delta-IV heavy?

Thank you.

In general, the performance using distributed launch is greater than 2X the performance of a single launch.

Offline georgesowers

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Hello Dr. Sowers,

Will the design be scarred such that a tri-core vehicle is possible should future demand require one?

We are preserving the ability to go to a 3 core Vulcan in the future should the need arise.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers, thank you for taking the time to answer questions!

My question is, how will the vehicle be delivered and processed at the pad? First transportation; will the stages be transported by barge or by air from the factory? For launch site integration; will it be like Atlas V (vertical rocket integration and a mobile transporter to the pad), Delta IV (horizontal rocket integration, erected at the pad and vertical payload integration with a mobile service tower) or like Falcon 9 (horizontal integration and erected at the pad)?

Thanks again! I am excited to see Vulcan fly!

It will similar to Atlas, at least initially.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,

why will Vulcan start out with an upper stage based on RL-10 instead of a BE-3?

There is certainly more experience with the BE-3 engine already, than with the BE-4 engine you plan to use in the 1st stage. BE-3 has already gone through acceptance testing while BE-4 has yet to be build, not to say test-fired. You could start developing an upper stage with a BE-3 engine right away and demonstrate it on either an Atlas or Delta rocket.

Same question in other words: If you are preprared to use an engine in development like the BE-4 in 2019, why is it important to first gather flight experience with the BE-3 before using it with the new rocket some time in 2023?

We are very interested in the BE-3, but in keeping with the incremental development approach we are changing one piece at a time.  For obvious reasons, we are starting with the booster.

Offline georgesowers

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George,

I'm excited to see the progress on this new rocket, and glad you guys are able to talk more openly about orbital refueling and such! Hopefully I get a chance to say hi when we're down at the symposium tomorrow.

My question is sort of boring, but do you have any numbers you can publish about expected performance for Vulcan, both with various numbers of strapons and the existing Centaur stage, and then with various numbers of strapons and the new ACES stage?

~Jon

Thanks Jon.  We'll be coming out with that soon.  In general, Vulcan has more performance than Atlas.  With ACES, a lot more.

Offline georgesowers

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Thank you for offering to answer our questions, Dr. Sowers.

Are you planning to recover and reuse the solid rocket boosters, either initially or eventually?

Nope.

Got to run again, but I'm committed to answer every question.

Offline mkent

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Thank you, Dr. Sowers, for coming here to answer our questions.

I'm a little late to the party, but on the chance that you see this and wish to respond, here is my question.

Even before the Vulcan announcement, ULA was pursuing a path of product enhancements and cost improvements: GPS-based tracking, common Delta IV CBC, common upper stage engine (RL-10C), common avionics, and common upper stage.  What is the current roadmap for rolling out these enhancements (do you have specific missions identified yet)?

Thanks.

Offline russianhalo117

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Thank you for offering to answer our questions, Dr. Sowers.

Are you planning to recover and reuse the solid rocket boosters, either initially or eventually?

Nope.

Got to run again, but I'm committed to answer every question.
a somewhat related follow on to the above question: Are you also planning to offer the option to deploy suborbital payloads on Vulcan via the External Payload Carrier (XPC) as was developed and made available on Atlas V programme??
Reference: EELV Partially Reusable Booster (2010 PDF) Section IV, Pages 5-6
ULA Paper Link: http://www.ulalaunch.com/uploads/docs/Published_Papers/Evolution/EELVPartialReusable2010.pdf
« Last Edit: 04/16/2015 03:47 AM by russianhalo117 »

Offline georgesowers

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ULA is not its own company.  Is this development being done on ULA funds or have the parent companies okayed it?

As Tory mentioned in the press conference, ULA is funding the investment out of our earnings.  The parents are providing incremental approval.

Offline georgesowers

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I'd like to know more about any plans for depots and the extremely long-lived side of ACES. You mentioned months. Does this include some sort of sunshield? Can I sneak one in on second stage recovery?

We've looked at sunshields in the past.  It's certainly feasible for very extended duration.  However, our initial thinking is simply mission/performance augmentation of ACES by refueling from a disposable tanker.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers,
Thank you for taking our questions. With the addition of more powerful solid rocket motors, I would like to know how the acceleration profile during flight will compare to that of the Atlas V / Delta IV now. Will the acceleration be higher? Or has this been offset by other factors?

We plan to keep acceleration levels within our current limits.  The higher thrust of the BE-4s and SRMs is offset by more propellant mass.

Offline georgesowers

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ULA is not its own company.  Is this development being done on ULA funds or have the parent companies okayed it?
I believe this was already answered at yesterday's webcast: "Funding for development is completely out of ULA's profits."

--

Thank you for doing this Dr. Sowers. I have a simple question: Will the stars and stripes paint scheme go on production vehicles or is it just artistic license for the renders? I think it looks gorgeous. Thanks, and I look forward to the first Vulcan launch!

For now it's art.  TBD if we paint the actual rocket.

Offline georgesowers

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ULA's press release says "In step two, the Centaur second stage will be replaced by the more powerful, innovative Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES), making the NGLS capability that of today’s Delta IV Heavy rocket.". Qualitatively will Vulcan with ACES match or exceed DIVH to all destinations from LEO to Saturn or will it be better for some orbits but not others? Quantitatively what's Vulcan with ACES's expected payload mass to LEO, 1500 m/s GTO, TLI, Mars, and Saturn? (Or better yet a plot of mass vs C3.)

We're not ready to release all the performance curves.  But one of driving requirements for Vulcan/ACES is to exceed DIV heavy performance to GSO with a single core configuration.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers - are there any concepts discussed on how the 1st stage engine booster inflatable heat shield will be made of and tested for use?

Detailed plans are being developed but I expect subscale demonstrations leading to full scale flight experiments.  We are collaborating with NASA's HIAD technology program.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr Sowers; thank you for all your attention and time here. Question: might any ACES derivative be put forward as a possible 'Exploration Upper Stage' for the SLS?

We're developing ACES commercially as part of Vulcan.  EUS is a separate development by NASA & Boeing.

Offline georgesowers

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Dr. Sowers,

My first question is the fuel choice for the first stage: methane.  What prompted the use of methane as opposed to the more traditional kerosene?

My second question is how much payload could the first configuration of Vulcan (with Centaur as upper stage) put into orbit or even to Mars?  The later part of the question relates to ULA's history with sending space probes out such as MAVEN and even Pluto-bound New Horizons.  The size of such spacecraft ultimately depend on the capabilities of the rockets that launch them.

Several reasons for LNG: low cost, commercially available, more conducive for reuse.

Vulcan performance to earth escape orbit should exceed Atlas even in step one.  With ACES we get a huge increase in performance to high energy orbits, exceeding DIV H.

Offline georgesowers

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SpaceX has said their goal is to fly first stages back to the landing site and reuse them quickly -- gas and go.  If SpaceX is successful in that, and continues an unbroken string of Falcon 9 launch successes, can Vulcan compete with that?  Or is ULA betting the company that SpaceX will fail?

As we've seen, landing stages on a barge is not that easy, not to mention return to the launch site.  But even if they successfully demonstrate that technical capability, which I believe they will, I don't believe the business case closes.  In other words, I don't think the economics of launch (measured in $/kg to orbit) will be improved relative to the equivalent expendable vehicle.

Our approach to reuse does lead to improved $/kg

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