United Launch Alliance
||This article uses bare URLs for citations, which may be threatened by link rot. (August 2014)|
|This article is outdated. (October 2009)|
|Founded||December 1, 2006|
|Products||Atlas V, Delta II, Delta IV|
|Website||United Launch Alliance|
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Boeing. 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.)
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.
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.
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.
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. The anomaly caused delays to forthcoming Atlas V and Delta IV launches, due to the common RL-10 upper stage engines. The fault was traced to a new type of valve being used in place of an older component which had gone out of production. To resolve the problem, the older design was put back into production, and in the meantime, surplus valves from the original production run were used.
Commercial and international launches aboard Atlas V and Delta rockets are managed by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services and Boeing Launch Services, respectively.
The high-cost space launches have received increasing attention and controversy with the arrival of SpaceX competition and price pressure. ULA's launch costs have been falsely reported by rival SpaceX to be approximately $450 million each. In May 2014, ULA's president claimed the average launch price was $225 million per launch with future launches as low as $100 million. This figure is in the price range of proposed SpaceX government launches ($90 million). The recent 36 core block buy from the Air Force was valued at $11 billion and includes 36 rocket cores for up to 28 launches. Simple division yields a contract price of $305 million per rocket core or $393 million per launch. This excludes the $1 billion of annual capability and readiness funding received by ULA. ULA is scheduled to complete 15 NROL launches in 2014. When the annual capability and readiness funds are included in the launch cost calculations, the cost to US taxpayers, per launch, balloons to over $459 million. This figure, based on simple math, directly contradicts the cost information released by ULA.
The contract was negotiated in part by Roger Correll in 2013 who joined a major ULA supplier, Aerojet/Rocketdyne, as a Vice President in May 2014, a few short months after concluding the deal.
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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