ULA Reflects on 50th Launch Under EELV Program

With the upcoming flight Atlas V rocket, United Launch Alliance will mark the fiftieth liftoff under Expendable Launch Vehicle Program. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Program began in the 1990s with the express purpose of guaranteeing access to orbit for Department of Defense and United States Air Force (USAF) payloads. With the upcoming launch of a classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) that program celebrates its fiftieth launch. AmericaSpace sat down with a member of ULA’s launch team, Tony Taliancich.

Taliancich graduated from the U.S. Air Force Academy and would spend 20 years in the USAF he would spend 15 years within the service working on launch operations. He now works for United Launch Alliance as the Director of the Customer Program Office.

Tony Taliancich. Photo Credit: ULA

AmericaSpace: Thanks for speaking with us about this milestone Tony.

Taliancich: “It’s my pleasure!”

AmericaSpace: United Launch Alliance will celebrate the fiftieth launch under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. Could you tell our readers what the initial benefits of this program were to be?

Taliancich: “The original EELV program originated out of the Moorman Study (named after Gen. Thomas S. Moorman – known in some circles as the “father” of EELV) it was really focused on doing things more efficiently and driving down cost in order to maintain the ability of placing our national security payloads into orbit. So the Moorman study looked around and noted that launches were basically broken up into niche markets. There were big, medium and small satellites and they were creating different infrastructures associated with each of them and by fragmenting the infrastructure any disruption to any of those systems, whether it was a launch delay or what have you – would invariably cause issues that would drive up cost. So what the Moorman Study said was that a family of vehicles that covered a range of launch requirements that was modular and could be dialed into the requirements of a specific mission would be more flexible and therefore more efficient and less expensive. This was what the EELV Program was structured around.”

The EELV Program consists now of two launch vehicles, the Atlas V, seen here, and the Delta IV. The Atlas V has recently launched two high-profie planetary missions for NASA. These include the Juno mission to Jupiter and the Mars Science Laboratory rover "Curiosity". Photo Credit: Mike Killian / ARES Institute

AmericaSpace: During the course of the EELV program what have been the primary launch vehicles that ULA has used to meet its requirements?

Taliancich: “There have been four primary rockets that have been used, the Titan II, Delta II, Atlas and the Delta IV. Now eventually the Atlas V and Delta IV have and continue to cover all of the various requirements, all of the niche markets with the different versions of each of these rockets.”

The second family of rockets employed by ULA under the EELV Program is the Delta IV family. Seen here is the powerful triple-bodied "heavy" variant. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

AmericaSpace: What does the future hold for EELV? What are some of the things that you feel the public should look forward to seeing?

Taliancich: “I think the public should know that the EELV systems were designed to provide reliable access to space because of the criticality of the payloads they support. Whether it’s national security or NASA / space exploration the payload is always very expensive. If you lose one, you could be losing up to ten years of capability. So the whole concept behind the EELV program was to provide that level of reliability to see that reliability became the rule – not the exception. So for the future, that same level of reliability will not just be used on DoD and USAF payloads – but other markets as well. We are working on a common avionics system that will work with both the Atlas V as well as the Delta IV family of launch vehicles. We’re also working to implement a common upper-stage engine, the RL-10C, which would be a common upper stage for Atlas and Delta.”

AmericaSpace: In the last few years there has been a push in government circles toward what are known as public-private contracts. ULA, under the EELV program, has already been doing this. How much of the funds invested in EELV are from ULA versus funds invested by the U.S. taxpayer?

Taliancich: “The companies that form ULA, Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, were heavily involved with, what we called at the time, a ‘government-industry’ partnership to develop these systems to replace heritage systems. During this initial period, the government investment was about $1 billion whereas the total cost of the program was approximately $6 billion, so about 80 percent of the development cost of the Atlas and Delta systems was paid for by the contractor, by ULA with just 20 percent being covered by the U.S. taxpayer. We won the contract in 1998 and both Atlas and Delta had their first launches within four years, having launched in 2002. This government-industry partnership allowed for a very timely delivery of the system – one which met all of the requirements under the operational requirements document that was provided by the government. It was kind of ironic in that the launch systems were all ready – but the satellites that they were set to launch – weren’t.”

Both the Atlas and Delta IV launch vehicles can be 'customized" to accomodate a variety of payloads. Different sized fairings as well as strap-on solid rocket boosters can be added depending on the mission requirements. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

AmericaSpace: Do you see how EELV played out as a herald to what is currently taking place?

An Atlas V 401 lifts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex-41 in Florida. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / awaltersphoto.com

Taliancich: “I think that’s very accurate, I think that EELV was probably more commercial than a lot of the SAAs (Space Act Agreements) that are being implemented now. The level of contractor investment and contractor control of the systems that they were developing was very high with government inside monitoring into what was going on and development…” “I think that a similar degree has extended into what is currently being done in terms of human space exploration. We are actively involved in that market as well, supporting the prime contractors such as Boeing and Sierra Nevada (Both of these companies have given the nod to ULA’s Atlas V to launch spacecraft that each firm is currently producing – Boeing’s CST-100 and Sierra Nevada Corporation’s Dream Chaser.) We’re teamed with them providing launch capabilities. We’re also providing a Delta IV for the upcoming launch of an Orion crew vehicle under the SLS program (NASA’s Space Launch System). We’re looking at such things as providing upper-stages for the SLS launch vehicle. We will help provide either test vehicles or transition vehicles for some of the things that they are doing and we’re looking at the EELV model for the government to get some real benefits from.”

AmericaSpace: As a follow up to my last question, some of the new private space firms are seeking contracts that currently belong to ULA. Do these companies have the capacity and capability to do what ULA does?

Taliancich: “I can’t speak for all of their infrastructure, but nobody has the infrastructure for all of these missions the way that ULA currently does. At the same time, they are going after contracts that ULA currently hasn’t signed at this time – if they were to go on contract with one of those other providers; say SpaceX or whoever, part of that contract would require them to have that infrastructure. Any contractor has to be careful with published cost as opposed to the actual cost – this must include all of the infrastructure that allows one to launch. Given all of that it is conceivable that someone will go out and spend the money to build all of the infrastructure needed – but they won’t have the history, they won’t have the scar tissue and the learning that makes one successful – but it can be done. However, in terms of commercial vendors, the customer is going to have to bear the burden of paying for that – because the vendor is not going to do it for free. There’s also a hidden part of the cost that people forget and that’s the integration of the payloads to be compatible with the launch vehicles. All of these things add up.”

An Atlas V 531 with the second of the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites departs the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) for the adjacent SLC-41. Photo Credit: Jason Rhian

AmericaSpace: During milestones such as this one, organizations and individuals have a tendency to look back as well as look forward. Are there changes or new elements to EELV that the public should be on the lookout for?

General Thomas S. Moorman is known as the "father" of the EELV Program. He recently received a lifetime achievement award at the 2012 National Space Symposium in Colorado. Photo Credit: USAF

Taliancich: “I think the one thing that the public should be on the lookout for is better synergy between the separate systems and greater reliability through increased strength in the incremental implementation in some of these systems like common avionics and common upper-stage engines. From a future standpoint our critical measure of success is getting the missions into orbit. If we can continue to do that at a reduced cost, which we have been doing and we have plans to continue to drive it down – I think you’re going to see that EELV systems will be a great advantage to the human space flight program as well as activities planned for space exploration. At the same time we will continue to deliver these national security payloads that benefit our war-fighters and our nation.”

AmericaSpace: Are there any specific thoughts you would like the public to know about regarding this milestone?

Taliancich: “We’re going to continue doing what we do effectively, efficiently and so that it is affordable to the tax-payer. We are incredibly fortunate to support the critical missions for the country and we look forward to continue doing that. We’re currently at about 12 launches a year – about once a month ULA is powering a critical payload to orbit. This is unprecedented in terms of mission success and we’re obviously very proud of that.”

AmericaSpace: We want to thank you for chatting with AmericaSpace today and wish you all the success possible in the future.

Taliancich: “Thanks!”

Taliancich might be understating ULA’s launch ratio a bit – as within just eight days the Denver, Colo.-based firm is scheduled to conduct not one – but two launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. If all goes according to plan ULA will launch an Atlas V 401 rocket with a classified National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) payload tomorrow morning. On June 28, ULA will put on a more impressive show as it launches a second rocket – this one a far more powerful Delta IV Heavy with another NRO satellite. The first launch, NROL-38 will launch from Space Launch Complex-41 Monday, June 20 – the second, NROL-15, from nearby Space Launch Complex-37.

ULA has employed four different launch systems under the EELV Program, the Titan, Atlas, Delta II (seen here) and the Delta IV. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / ARES Institute
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