This morning, ULA’s (United Launch Alliance) Vulcan Centaur pathfinder rocket was offloaded from their transport boat Rocketship, following its journey from ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. The rocket booster was driven into Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, where it will undergo testing at ULA’s Vertical Integration Facility, Spaceflight Processing Operations Center, and Space Launch Complex-41.
In general, a “Pathfinder” of a rocket is the same size, shape and mass of an actual launch vehicle. This allows ground crews to become familiar with process that is necessary to move and prepare a new type of vehicle for launch. For the Space Shuttle, the Pathfinder was a mockup made of steel and wood, but in the case of the Vulcan pathfinder it is a flightworthy booster. The ULA teams will, however, need to swap out the development BE-4 engines, which have been repeatedly static fired, for flight engines prior to launch.
Vulcan Centaur is United Launch Alliance’s newest rocket; taking over the roles of the Atlas and Delta rockets. Designed to meet the customers needs, this rocket was designed for higher performance and lower costs to those paying for the company’s services. The Vulcan Centaur will be available in four configurations, zero, two, four, and six SRB (Solid Rocket Booster) variations. Unlike previous orbital rockets, the Vulcan will use Liquid Methane; rather than RP-1 or Liquid Hydrogen. The Vulcan’s first stage engines, the BE-4’s, are manufactured by Blue Origin and will also be used on Blue Origin’s own New Glenn rocket. The first launch of Vulcan will be at the end of this year, with the launch of Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander.