NASA On Ramps New Glenn to NLS II, While Vulcan Slips to Late 2021

Blue Origin can now bid for NASA launches, though until they have a few successful flights, they’ll be limited on which payloads they can win.

That news came along right as Tory Bruno had some comments on Vulcan’s first flight being delayed. Sandra Erwin, for SpaceNews:

Bruno told reporters in a conference call that ULA is confident that both the launch vehicle and its first customer — Astrobotic’s Peregrine lunar lander —  will be on the launch pad “by the end of next year.”

The timeline for Vulcan’s maiden flight has slipped over the past two years because ULA does not yet have flight-qualified BE-4 main engines for Vulcan’s first stage. Engine manufacturer Blue Origin this year delivered two “pathfinder” engines to be used for ground tests but the actual flight engines won’t arrive at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama, until summer 2021.

We’ve known BE-4 has been behind schedule for a while now, but with the first flight engines shipping to ULA this upcoming summer, that’s quite a bit further behind than I thought they’d be at this point.

I mentioned some of this in a recent podcast episode, but considering how long it will take to get BE-4 production up to the point of supporting multiple Vulcan flights alongside the first New Glenn flights, and considering that we have heard little to nothing on the BE-3U front in quite a while, it sure seems like we’re still at least 2 years out from New Glenn’s first flight.