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Update: United Launch Alliance launches Vulcan rocket on maiden flight

ULA's Vulcan rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral on 8 January, launching the Peregrine lunar lander into a trans-lunar injection orbit. (ULA)

United Launch Alliance (ULA) launched its first Vulcan launch vehicle the morning of 8 January, paving the way for a slate of national security, scientific, and private launches.

The rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station's Space Launch Complex-41 at 0218 h local time. Vulcan launched in the VC2S configuration, with two GEM 63XL solid rocket boosters and a standard 5.4 m (17.7 ft) payload fairing.

While Vulcan's second stage is powered by two Aerojet Rocketdyne RL-10C engines, which have powered over 400 flights, the 8 January launch was the first orbital flight for the first stage's two Blue Origin BE-4 engines.

Although Vulcan injected its payload, Astrobotic Technology's Peregrine lunar lander, into its planned trans-lunar injection orbit, a propellant leak aboard the spacecraft led the company to abort its intended moon landing. Peregrine is performing limited operations, gathering data and testing components to inform future missions.

A second launch is planned “in the coming months”, according to a statement by ULA, with the first operational launch set for boreal summer.

Vulcan can launch up to 60,000 lb (27,200 kg) of payload into low Earth orbit (LEO), making it one of the most capable rockets launched today.

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