Vulcan Nails First Flight, But Peregrine Falls Short

For those with an interest in the history of spaceflight, January 8th promised to be a pretty exciting day. Those who tuned into the early morning live stream were looking forward to seeing the first flight of the Vulcan Centaur, a completely new heavy-lift booster developed by United Launch Alliance. But as noteworthy as the inaugural mission of a rocket might be under normal circumstances, this one was particularly special as it was carrying Peregrine — set to be the first American spacecraft to set down on the lunar surface since the end of the Apollo program in 1972.

Experience has taught us that spaceflight is hard, and first attempts at it doubly so. The likelihood of both vehicles performing as expected and accomplishing all of their mission goals was fairly remote to begin with, but you’ve got to start somewhere. Even in the event of a complete failure, valuable data is collected and real-world experience is gained.

Now, more than 24 hours later, we’re starting to get that data back and finding out what did and didn’t work. There’s been some disappointment for sure, but when everything is said and done, the needle definitely moved in the right direction.

Continue reading “Vulcan Nails First Flight, But Peregrine Falls Short”

Counting Down To The Final Atlas Rocket

The Atlas family of rockets have been a mainstay of America’s space program since the dawn of the Space Age, when unused SM-65 Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) were refurbished and assigned more peaceful pursuits. Rather than lobbing thermonuclear warheads towards the Soviets, these former weapons of war carried the first American astronauts into orbit, helped build the satellite constellations that our modern way of life depends on, and expanded our knowledge of the solar system and beyond.

SM-65A Atlas ICBM in 1958

Naturally, the Atlas V that’s flying today looks nothing like the squat stainless steel rocket that carried John Glenn to orbit in 1962. Aerospace technology has evolved by leaps and bounds over the last 60 years, but by carrying over the lessons learned from each generation, the modern Atlas has become one of the most reliable orbital boosters ever flown. Since its introduction in 2002, the Atlas V has maintained an impeccable 100% success rate over 85 missions.

But as they say, all good things must come to an end. After more than 600 launches, United Launch Alliance (ULA) has announced that the final mission to fly on an Atlas has been booked. Between now and the end of the decade, ULA will fly 28 more missions on this legendary booster. By the time the last one leaves the pad the company plans to have fully transitioned to their new Vulcan booster, with the first flights of this next-generation vehicle currently scheduled for 2022.

Continue reading “Counting Down To The Final Atlas Rocket”