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New launch vehicles are under constraints

Two launch companies asserted that their vehicles would be ready for their maiden flights in 2022, while a third admitted that the first flight of their new vehicle would likely be delayed until the close of next year. Jarrett Jones, Blue Origin’s senior vice president in charge of the New Glenn launch vehicle program, moved away from a previous timeline that called for a launch in the 4th quarter of 2022 during a discussion panel at Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week on December 13.

Blue Origin decided to focus its efforts to satisfy the demands of commercial customers after losing a US Space Force launch contest to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX in 2020, he added. “Yes, we have a debut date in mind,” she says, “but we’ll launch when we’re ready and aligned with our clients.”

Various certification activities are underway, including trials of a payload fairing at NASA’s Neil A. Armstrong Test Facility situated in Ohio, previously identified as Plum Brook Station. The first stage of qualification is expected to be completed in early 2022, with the upper stage following at the midpoint of the year. Jarrett stated that the business is constructing first flight hardware in parallel, and that’s a risk “but it’s a risk we’re wagering on because of the design.”

“My anticipation is that qualification is going to be finished next year, and that by the end of the year, we will have a rocket in the works, if not built, and ready to launch,” he stated. The delivery of the 7 BE-4 engines which power the very first stage is a critical component of that schedule. “I’m pretty bullish on BE-4 engines,” he remarked, citing recent testing results as justification. “The hope is that we’ll acquire those in the second part of 2022, and then integration will take three months.”

ULA’s Vulcan Centaur, which employs 2 BE-4 engines during its first stage, is similarly affected by the BE-4 timetable. ULA had intended to get the first flying engines by the end of the year, but Tory Bruno, the company’s president and chief executive, indicated on December 3 that they would not arrive till after the new year.

“The Blue team is making excellent progress, and we anticipate receiving those engines during the first quarter of next year,” said Mark Peller, ULA’s vice president in charge of major development. “This keeps us on track to send the combined rocket down to a launch site in time for Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander to make its first flight next year.” Peller appeared to refute a report published by Ars Technica on December 13 claiming that the engines’ delivery had been pushed back to at least April 2022, threatening to push the first launch back to 2023.