ULA’s Technology

I saw George Sowers and Bernard Kutter, from ULA, at the AIAA conference in Pasadena last week. Jon Goff has a summary/review of some of the papers they presented there.

These are key technologies for my Kickstarter project (and opening the solar system). It’s interesting to note that they think they are ready to build depots now — Congress can’t prevent it any more by cutting technology funding. I asked Bernard in his presentation if it was fair to say that ACES was basically a depot with a propulsion system. His answer: “Basically yes.” Also, what they are calling “distributed launch” is essentially a powerful refutation of the argument for the need of SLS. But they can’t say that explicitly. I asked Tory on Twitter if he could give me a ballpark price of a Vulcan/ACES flight. He demurred, but it’s a number I need to cost architectures.

14 thoughts on “ULA’s Technology”

  1. Had an interesting tweeter exchange with @ToryBruno yesterday ( link to tweet ) and was surprised he said that ACES won’t be running til after they replace the RD-180 in 2022ish.. what you found out about timing was great. Hope they get it launched sooner can be an enabler for other innovations.

  2. Jabe,
    I hope they can find ways to accelerate that timescale. The longer they take to get ACES flying, the longer it’ll be before they can retire DIVH and consolidate down to a single launch vehicle, and the less competitive they’ll be in the interim. 2022-2023 seems too long. That said, I know they’re actively funding work on IVF and ACES at an accelerate pace. Just not sure if it’ll be fast enough. I hope so–our country would be better served by two highly competitive providers that were busy eating the rest of the world’s launch.


    1. curious to see what Spacex has in works that is similar to ACES. Only makes sense that they have something on the go… Upper stage seems to be their weak point right now..besides not flying right now that is 🙂

      1. Jabe,
        Possibly, but they have so many irons in the fire right now that they need to actually make work:
        1- Dragon V2
        2- Falcon Heavy
        3- Falcon 9 1.1 FT/1.2/whatever they’re calling it with all the changes with propellant densification
        4- Falcon 9 first stage recovery and reuse
        5- Dragonrider powered landing development
        6- Raptor
        7- PLF recovery

        And that’s only the projects that we know they’re formally working on.

        Could they add more to the plate? Maybe. It’ll be interesting to see where SpaceX and ULA go from here.


  3. Why the thinking that a tanker would bring LH2 as well as LOX?

    “Just” refueling LOX on a ship that brought it’s own “mission” LH2 means the tanker only has to cryo LOX, and only has to transfer LOX.

    The insulation improvements do look awesome.

    1. The problem is that just bringing your own LH2 is harder to do than you think. You’d have to have a significantly stretched stage, or live with a much smaller payload.

      And the LH2 is used to suppress LOX boiloff. LH2 is an amazing heat sponge. Without it, you’d actually lose more mass to boiloff than you do with it.

      When you have a clear way to do both propellants, why wouldn’t you do both?


  4. I made a similar comment over at Selenian Boondocks, but 7 years ( and not from a standing start ) for what is effectively a Centaur mod is just insanely slow.
    People made fun of sluggish pace of Chinese space developments, but frankly, it looks like they have matured more in space tech in the past decade than US has.

    1. reader,
      The advanced concepts group at ULA first discussed the concept way back then (actually it’s closer to 9 or 10 years ago now), but they never had internal go-ahead to develop the concept for real since they didn’t have a compelling business case for the stage that closed with NASA developing in-house launchers instead of using commercial launch for exploration. IVF was the only part of ACES that was actively being funded, and only at a trickle due to higher priority IRAD activities. All of that has changed now with ULA’s need to stay competitive with SpaceX finally forcing their parent companies to let them keep funding.

      7yrs sounds like a long time, but for how little funding they’ve had available until now it’s amazing that they’ve made any progress on it. And now that they do have funding, I expect we’ll see a lot more progress to show in the near future.


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