The first United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan rocket is atop its Cape Canaveral launch pad for the next phase of qualification testing in preparation for the inaugural flight.
Over the next several days, ULA engineers and technicians will put the rocket through pathfinder tests to validate the successful performance of the Vulcan and Centaur stages, Vulcan Launch Platform (VLP), pad facilities and ground support systems.
The tanking tests will verify countdown steps, procedures and timelines and offer the opportunity to certify the launch team through real-world experience operating the hardware.
The VLP transported the rocket from the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) to Space Launch Complex (SLC)-41 on March 9, riding the rails that connect the two locations. The rocket was stacked on the VLP inside the VIF in late January and a series of readiness checks since then confirmed that the vehicle was ready to move on to launch pad testing.
Each tanking day is planned to be lengthy and incorporate extensive special test objectives. The expected duration of tests necessitates two shifts of launch console operators, dividing the crew into the "Preps and Tanking Team" and the "Detanking and Securing Team."
After the tanking tests are accomplished, the VLP will disengage from the pad systems for transport of the Vulcan rocket to the VIF for the next step in the countdown to the inaugural launch.
The first flight includes payloads for three distinctly different missions, deploying two Project Kuiper prototype broadband satellites into low Earth orbit for Amazon, sending Astrobotic's Peregrine commercial lunar lander to intercept the Moon and carrying a Celestis memorial payload into deep space.