WASHINGTON — When United Launch Alliance started to develop its new Vulcan rocket, it envisioned using a new upper stage called ACES, short for advanced cryogenic evolved stage. ULA’s president and CEO Tory Bruno described it in 2018 as a transportation system that would operate in space for weeks or months performing missions in different orbits.
ULA later changed course and decided that its Vulcan Centaur would use the Centaur 5, a larger and more powerful version of the Atlas 5 upper stage.
Speaking April 7 at the America’s Future Series space innovation summit, Bruno said ULA is still betting on long-endurance upper stages and believes the technology has a bright future.
“We think it’s going to be really all about that through-space transportation, and the things that upper stages can do,” Bruno said.
The launch industry has mastered the ability to deliver payloads to orbit so the future is about figuring out applications that a vehicle can do after satellite deployment, said Bruno.
An upper stage, for example, could operate as a tug in space beyond Earth’s orbit or around the lunar orbit. The U.S. government could, for instance, use the vehicle to drop off multiple ...