In a blow to United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) hopes for the latest Vulcan-Centaur rocket, an explosive pressurisation test failure of the Centaur V’s upper stage occurred on 29 March. While quickly admitting to the failure, ULA initially downplayed the event describing it as an “anomaly”. However, photographic evidence of the failure clearly shows a massive fiery column of burning hydrogen with debris apparently being thrown from the stage. No-one was injured.
ULA’s CEO Tory Bruno later made the point to Ars Technica (Eric Berger) that most of the debris was structure from the test rig rather than the stage itself, although he did admit that one part was from the tank dome. Nevertheless, the failure is still likely to delay the date of the first (maiden) flight of the new Vulcan-Centaur from May to later in the year.
Update on 26 April 2023: Tory Bruno has said the launch will be delayed until at least June or July this year.
Regarding last week’s Centaur V anomaly, here’s a photo of the resulting explosion at Marshall Space Flight Center. Good luck to ULA on its investigation and getting the Vulcan Cert-1 mission off the ground. pic.twitter.com/Na6h7VfHSE
— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) April 8, 2023