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Bruno: The long-endurance upper stage is ULA’s next big thing

ByAmanda Holden

Oct 16, 2021

United Launch Alliance planned to use a modern upper stage dubbed ACES, which stands for the advanced cryogenic evolved stage while developing the new Vulcan rocket. Tory Bruno, ULA’s president as well as CEO, characterized it in the year 2018 as a transportation device that will exist in space for weeks or even months, carrying out missions in various orbits. ULA later modified its mind and opted to use Centaur 5, a larger as well as more efficient variant of the Atlas 5 upper stage, for its Vulcan Centaur.

Bruno stated ULA is already betting on the long-endurance upper stages as well as claims the technology has a promising future on 7 April at America’s Future Series space innovation summit. “We believe it would be mostly regarding through-space transportation as well as the capabilities of the upper stages,” Bruno stated. According to Bruno, the launch sector has perfected the capacity to carry payloads to space, but the future will be spent finding out what a spacecraft will do after a satellite launch.

For instance, an upper stage might act as a pull in space outside Earth’s orbit or near the lunar orbit. For example, the United States government could use the aircraft to drop off several payloads on various orbits. According to Bruno, going to orbit is becoming smoother and is no longer a challenge to be solved. “After that, it’s more about the advanced levels. And we have a significant technological advantage over our rivals in terms of our ability to achieve complex, high-energy orbits.”

At a meeting last year, Mark Peller, ULA vice president, stated that the organization was no longer following the ACES idea but that the study from that initiative “has its fingerprints” in the Centaur 5. According to Bruno, Vulcan’s Centaur 5 has 40 percent more stamina and two and a half times the capacity of the upper stage ULA actually flies. Vulcan is currently in production and research, with a first launch planned later this year.

Bruno said, “But that’s only the edge of the iceberg.” “Over the next few years, I’ll be moving up to 450, 500, as well as 600 times my current stamina. It will open the door to a whole new series of missions which you couldn’t imagine performing today.” According to Bruno, ULA is optimistic that its upper-stage technologies can pay off as further space infrastructure is built. “Between here and the moon, there is an enormous economic opportunity that can be exploited.” “So, what I see is that through-space transportation is getting more attention and real leverage,” he added. “It would be about reusability in a vacuum, about the upper stages.”