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ULA shipping Vulcan upper stage back to factory for more work

The Centaur V upper stage for the first Vulcan test flight was originally lifted atop its booster at Cape Canaveral in February.

Enlarge / The Centaur V upper stage for the first Vulcan test flight was originally lifted atop its booster at Cape Canaveral in February. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

United Launch Alliance technicians at Cape Canaveral, Florida, have partially disassembled the first Vulcan rocket to send the launch vehicle’s upper stage back to its factory for reinforcements to its paper-thin steel fuel tank.

A test article for the Vulcan rocket’s Centaur V upper stage exploded on March 29 during a structural test at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. After a nearly three-month investigation, ULA engineers determined the upper stage already mounted to the first flight-rated Vulcan rocket inside a hangar in Florida needs more work.

ULA hasn’t ruled out launching the company’s first new Vulcan rocket by the end of the year, but the recovery from the test stand explosion in March eliminated any chance of getting Vulcan off the ground this summer. This also means the Vulcan rocket won’t become operational for the US military until some time next year, following two “certification” flights to demonstrate the vehicle’s performance and reliability.

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