United Launch Alliance
|Founded||December 1, 2006|
|Products||Atlas V, Delta II, Delta IV|
Number of employees
|Website||United Launch Alliance|
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. ULA was formed in December 2006 by combining the teams at these companies which provide spacecraft launch services to the government of the United States. U.S. government launch customers include both the Department of Defense and NASA, as well as other organizations.
ULA provides launch services using three expendable launch systems – Delta II, Delta IV and Atlas V. The Atlas and Delta launch system families have been used for more than 50 years to carry a variety of payloads including weather, telecommunications and national security satellites, as well as deep space and interplanetary exploration missions in support of scientific research. ULA has also provided launch services for non-government satellites. (Lockheed Martin retains the rights to market Atlas commercially. Boeing retains similar rights for Delta.)
Beginning in October 2014, ULA announced that they intended to undertake a substantial restructuring of the company, its products and processes, in the coming years in order to decrease launch costs. ULA is planning on building a new rocket that will be a successor to the Atlas V, using a new rocket engine on the first stage, with plans to release key design aspects before the end of 2014. In April 2015, they unveiled the new vehicle as the Vulcan, with the first flight of a new first stage no earlier than 2019.
Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced their intent to form the United Launch Alliance joint venture on May 2, 2005. ULA merges the production of the government space launch services of the two companies into one central plant in Decatur, Alabama, and merged all engineering into another central plant in Littleton, Colorado. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Delta IV and Lockheed Martin Space Systems Atlas V are both launchers developed for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program intended to provide the United States government with competitively priced, assured access to space.
ULA had a peak of six space launch facilities during 2005–2011. It announced a consolidation to five in 2008 with the intent to close one of its two Delta II pads, and closed the pad at Cape Canaveral after its final Delta II launch in 2011.
SpaceX challenged the antitrust legality of the launch services monopoly on October 23, 2005. SpaceX is interested in competing for government launch contracts with the Falcon 9 rocket. On January 7, 2006 the Department of Defense gave preliminary approval to the United Launch Alliance.
In September 2006, the Pentagon renewed their support for ULA, and announced their support to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC gave their anti-trust clearance on October 3, 2006. The joint venture began operations on December 1, 2006.
Two years following company formation from units of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, ULA announced it would lay off 350 workers in early 2009, reducing from a company-wide employment of 4200 employees in 2008. In the event, ULA had approximately 3900 employees by August 2009
In late 2009, ULA announced that it intended to build a new headquarters campus for its operations south of Denver, in Centennial, Colorado, in order to move away from facility space it had shared with Lockheed Martin since 2006 when ULA was founded.
In September 2014, it was announced that the firm had won a contract from the United States Air Force for US$938 million for additional work on military rocket launch services related to its existing contracts with the US Air Force.
ULA announced in February 2015 that they are considering undertaking domestic production of the Russian RD-180 engine at the Decatur, Alabama rocket stage manufacturing facility. The US-manufactured engines would be used only for government civil (NASA) or commercial launches, and would not be used for US military launches.
United Launch Alliance is currently flying:
ULA program management, engineering, test and mission support functions are headquartered in Centennial, Colorado. Manufacturing, assembly and integration operations are located in two buildings, one at Decatur, Alabama, and the other in Harlingen, Texas.
ULA launches from both coasts of the United States, depending on the customer's desired orbit. East coast Atlas V launches take place from Launch Complex 41 while east coast Delta IV launches take place from Launch Complex 37. Both are located in Cape Canaveral, Florida. West coast launches take place from Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California.
ULA has announced plans to reduce the number of launch pads in use from five in 2015 to only two by 2021, as part of overall company restructuring and the transition from the legacy Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles and to a "next-generation launch vehicle" (NGLS).
The first launch conducted by ULA was of a Delta II, from Vandenberg Air Force Base on December 14, 2006. The rocket carried the USA 193 satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. This satellite failed shortly after launch and was intentionally destroyed on February 21, 2008 by an SM-3 missile fired from the Ticonderoga class cruiser USS Lake Erie.
On June 15, 2007, the engine in the Centaur upper stage of a ULA-launched Atlas V shut down early, leaving its payload – a pair of NRO L-30 ocean surveillance satellites – in a lower than intended orbit. Nonetheless, the mission was declared a success by the customer.
Commercial and international launches aboard Atlas V and Delta rockets are managed by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services and Boeing Launch Services, respectively.
With the introduction of competition from lower-cost launch providers and the increasing costs of ULA launches year-over-year, increased attention has been paid to the amounts ULA has received for US government launch contracts, and for its annual government funding of $1 billion for launch capability and readiness. In particular, an uncontested US Air Force block-buy of 36 rocket cores for up to 28 launches, valued at $11 billion, drew protest from competitor SpaceX. SpaceX has claimed the cost of ULA's launches are approximately $460 million each, and has proposed a price of $90 million to provide similar launches. In response, former ULA CEO Michael Gass claimed an average launch price of $225 million, with future launches as low as $100 million.
ULA released contract values to the public and CEO Tory Bruno testified before Congress in March of 2015, to "correct these misconceptions". The $11B frequently referred to by SpaceX as covering the cost of 36 cores (28 missions) is incomplete and includes launch costs for another 50 missions. The actual contract structure is for a manufacturing contract of $6.4B to build 50 rockets, a second manufacturing contract to build another 28 rockets, and a third launch contract of $6.9B to fly all 78. The actual average cost of flying ULA's fleet of 15 different rocket types across this window is $225M ($17.6B/78), with the least expensive at $164M, an Atlas V 401 rocket roughly equivalent to a Falcon F9.1, and the most expensive at $400M for the Delta IV Heavy.
Company restructuring after 2014
In October 2014, ULA announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce in order to decrease launch costs by half. One of the reasons given for the restructuring and new cost reduction goals was competition from SpaceX. ULA intends to have preliminary design ideas in place for a blending of the Atlas V and Delta IV technology by the end of 2014, to build a successor that will allow them to cut launch costs in half. The restructuring is intended to facilitate ULA's shift into providing widespread access to space, and growing the customer base to include significant commercial customers in addition to the principally US government customers of ULA's first decade. CEO Tory Bruno stated in November 2014 that he intends to transform the company and reorganize it "to make it more agile, and establish new business models to adapt to the new environment. These changes will lead to improvements in how ULA interacts with its customers, both governmental and commercial, shorter launch cycles, and launch costs cut in half again." ULA intends to shrink the number of company launch pads from six in 2008 and five in 2015 to only two by 2021 as they ramp down the legacy Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles.
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[the] plan to field a new rocket engine with Blue Origin called the BE-4 is only step one of a larger strategic plan to take the company from a sole-source benefactor mentality to competing in a burgeoning commercial market. ... The Atlas V and Delta IV ... both have a limited future.
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- United Launch Alliance site
- Boeing, Lockheed Martin to Form Launch Services Joint Venture
- FTC gives prelimanary clearance to United Launch Alliance
- United Launch Alliance begins Operations