ULA’s Vulcan rocket launches as the newest challenger to SpaceX

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  • United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket successfully launched its long-awaited inaugural mission from Florida’s Cape Canaveral early Monday.
  • Vulcan successfully deployed its main payload, the Peregrine lunar cargo lander for Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, which aims to land on the moon on Feb. 23.
  • ULA’s Vulcan represents the latest challenger to the launch business of Elon Musk’s SpaceX, with the companies fiercely competing for lucrative national security rocket contracts.
The brand new rocket, United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur, lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41d at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 8, 2024, for its maiden voyage, carrying Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander. 
Chandan Khanna | AFP | Getty Images

A new U.S. rocket reached orbit early Monday, and the launch was a big one – not just in scale of the vehicle, but also in significance for a market that’s become dominated by a single player in recent years.

United Launch Alliance, or ULA, successfully launched its long-awaited inaugural Vulcan rocket from Florida’s Cape Canaveral. The 202-foot-tall rocket successfully deployed its main payload, the Peregrine lunar cargo lander for Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic, about an hour later.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine is bound for the moon, where it will attempt a landing on Feb. 23 – potentially becoming the first American spacecraft to soft-land on the moon since Apollo 17 more than 50 years ago.

Under a NASA-funded program known as the Commercial Lunar Payload Services initiative, Astrobotic’s mission represents one of six lunar launches of landers from three different companies slated for this year.

Taking on SpaceX

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Vulcan Centaur rocket is transported to the launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 5, 2024.
Chandan Khanna | AFP | Getty Images

Finally, Vulcan’s first launch may also be key in discussions reportedly underway to sell the rocket company.

ULA is a joint venture, equally owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, created in a 2006 merger of the companies’ rocket businesses.

Blue Origin, private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management and industrials conglomerate Textron have each expressed interest in buying ULA, according to a WSJ report last month.

The brand new rocket, United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Vulcan Centaur, lifts off from Space Launch Complex 41d at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 8, 2024, for its maiden voyage, carrying Astrobotic’s Peregrine Lunar Lander. 
Gregg Newton | AFP | Getty Images

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