Frank Calvelli said he wants to make sure the companies understand ‘the importance of achieving their milestones’
WASHINGTON — Frank Calvelli, U.S. Space Force Acquisitions Director, will visit the United Launch Alliance’s Decatur, Alabama plant this week to receive an update on the company’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket, a vehicle in which the U.S. military has invested and is expected to use to build national security satellites.
Calvelli, who has been on the job for less than two months, told reporters at the Pentagon on June 28 that he was aware of the development delays on Vulcan’s main engine, Blue Origin’s BE-4, and so decided to bring ULA and Blue Origin on this itinerary sooner rather than later.
“One of the first industry visits I want to make is there to make sure they understand the importance of reaching their milestones, both with the delivery of the engine and with the launch,” said Calvelli.
Vulcan is years behind schedule due to delays in development and testing of the BE-4 engine that powers the vehicle’s first stage. ULA CEO Tory Bruno has said that the two flying engines needed for Vulcan’s maiden flight will be delivered this summer and that Vulcan should be ready to fly by the end of the year.
Calvelli said he expects Vulcan’s first launch in December. “That’s what I’ve been told.”
ULA must fly Vulcan and successfully complete two commercial orbital missions to become certified to launch U.S. military and intelligence satellites under the National Security Space Launch program. ULA is under contract, along with SpaceX, to launch as many as 35 missions over the next five years.
Certifying Vulcan as soon as possible is critical to the Department of Defense. ULA is currently launching NSSL missions with its workhorse Atlas 5 rocket, but DoD cannot purchase Atlas 5 launches after 2022 due to a congressional ban on the use of Russian rocket engines. The Atlas 5 uses the Russian-built RD-180s engines. ULA said it has sold all of its remaining Atlas 5s and just won a major contract from Amazon to launch the Kuiper broadband constellation, so it’s imperative for the company to move to Vulcan and get a domestically produced engine. to control.
Calvelli said he will be briefed on Vulcan’s status during his scheduled visit on June 30. “I’ve never had a good dive into what Vulcan is all about and what the BE-4 is about,” he said. “I’m going there as one of my first visits to the industry to make sure they know that it’s really critical that they launch in December this year as they had committed to get those engines delivered,” he added. ready. “So I go there as an education to learn, and to make sure that both Blue Origin and ULA know how important this is.”
At this point, Calvelli said he has no particular concerns about the program, but believes it is important enough to merit a visit. “I just want them to recognize that there is someone new in town, and that this is very important to me.”