United Launch Alliance Accomplishing Milestones at Rapid Pace

Atlas V MUOS-2 on SL41 with Delta IV WGS WDR on SL36
The rapid pace of United Launch Alliance was made apparent during the lead up to the recent launch of an Atlas V rocket (which took place on July 19). Over at a nearby pad, ULA was preparing another rocket to be launched just 19 days later on Aug. 7. Photo Credit: ULA

While there are several companies that provide launch services, few are able to keep pace with United Launch Alliance (ULA). Within the past week and a half, the Colorado-based space firm has completed five processing milestones which, according to ULA, included one launch on three different launch pads located at the two launch facilities operated by ULA (Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California).

Just last week, ULA conducted what is known as a Wet Dress Rehearsal, or “WDR.” During this test, a Delta IV Medium rocket, at Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 37, was brought up to the very second before an actual launch—complete with fueling. This is conducted to ensure that the Delta IV is ready to send the Wideband Global Satcom 6 satellite into orbit (launch is currently scheduled to take place on Aug. 7 at 8:28 p.m. EDT at 8:29 p.m. EDT).

MUOS 2 United Launch Alliance Atlas V Cape Canaveral Air Force Station ULA photo credit John Studwell AmericaSpace
As United Launch Alliance rolled this Atlas V 551 rocket out to the pad, over at nearby SLC-37, the company was busy testing a Delta IV so that it could be launched. Photo Credit: John Studwell / AmericaSpace

The morning of the WDR, July 17, United Launch Alliance was busy preparing an Atlas V 551 to launch the U.S. Navy’s Mobile User Objective System 2 (MUOS-2) satellite from nearby Space Launch Complex 41. Rollout and pad operations, along with other peripheral duties, were handled as another arm of ULA.

“These simultaneous operations demonstrate the tremendous capabilities of the combined contractor and U.S. government teams,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA’s vice president for the company’s Atlas and Delta Programs. “With this team’s innovative and ever-present focus on delivering mission success and reliable and repeatable processes through Perfect Product Delivery®, the United Launch Alliance team has achieved an unparalleled launch rate.”

On July 23, just four days after MUOS-2 was successfully sent on its mission into the black of space, ULA mated the WGS-6 spacecraft to its Delta IV launch vehicle (when WDR is conducted, the Delta IV Medium does not have the payload/fairing attached).

The following day, across the country at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB), a Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle was mated with the NROL-65 spacecraft at VAFB’s Space Launch Complex 6 (SLC-6). NROL-65 is currently slated to launch on Aug. 28.

So far this year, ULA has successfully conducted six launches. By comparison, SpaceX has conducted one launch and Orbital Sciences Corporation has launched twice. In essence, ULA has conducted twice as many launches as both its nearest competitors combined. There are still six missions that ULA has on its launch manifest for the remainder of 2013. Fifteen missions are on the 2014 manifest, according to ULA.

“The ability for ULA to reduce its processing time and increase process reliability, both during manufacturing and at the launch sites, offers our customers added manifest flexibility as well as additional launch opportunities to ensure their missions are delivered reliably and on-time,” said Sponnick. “We are ready to launch when are customers need us to be.”

ULA is the product of a merger between elements of The Boeing Company and Lockheed-Martin. The company’s headquarters is based out of Denver, Colo., with much of the company’s manufacturing, assembly, and integration occurring at facilities located in Decatur, Ala., and Harlingen, Texas. The company’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles are used by a range of customers that include the National Reconnaissance Office, the Department of Defense, and NASA.

“We are in the middle of a launch campaign with an operational tempo that is unprecedented since the inception of the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program more than a decade ago,” Sponnick said in a release by ULA. “This team’s ability to maintain this high tempo with a one-launch-at-a-time focus on 100 percent mission success is a testament to the decades of experience this team brings each and every day to this exacting business.”


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  1. Good story but check that second paragraph “(launch is currently scheduled to take place on Aug. 7 at 8:28 p.m. EDT at 8:29 p.m. EDT.”

  2. Quiet, competent professionalism. No hype. No arrogance. Thank you United Launch Alliance for showing how it can, and should, be done.

  3. I don’t know about the “no hype” part. How many folks out there actually buy the idea that Musk was run off the coast under “range safety?” You must remember that–at the time, the EELVs were just as unproven as Musk’s early Falcon rockets.

    Remember the EELV data theft from LockMart by Boeing employees before they became on big happy fleet under ULA? The Darleen Dryen tanker fiasco, etc.

    My problem with ULA is that they wannted to eat their cake and have it too. There is no doubt they wanted shuttle-derived heavy lift dead. even though folks have been calling for it all the way back to the Magnum/Shuttle-C days well before even CaLV Direct, Ares V, ALS/NLS. That last entry was a way for rocket folks to tell payload types that their sats would have to take care of themselves.

    Now the good thing about todays plethora of rockets is that there is no longer quite the yawning gap between the late Atlas II AS and the Titan IV–both gone.

    ULA’s members thought the EELVs would take care of themselves, but the DOT>COM bubble burst, the internet-in-the-sky Teledesic fell through, and the Air Force was left with the EELV albatross on its neck. So fighter-jocks being what they are, they had the idea of foisting them on NASA so as to allay costs. But Griffin–the only Bush appointee I actually liked–stood up to them.

    For years, the Air Farce has meddled with NASA. Hate segmented solids like what Ares I was going to have? Well NASA wanted the Saturns, but USAF wanted Titans. Guess who got what they wanted? Many experts wanted a smaller shuttle–AF wanted a bigger payload bay.

    For once we had someone who stood up to them. So Mike G had to go, and they tried to get Sega or some other AF hack as NASA chief, and when Bolden got up there, folks howled because of some ATK link that someone talked about.

    The folks in ULA tried to say that NASA shouldn’t be in the rocket making business, and that the market should provide them. The market being ULA, that is. But then Musk showed up again. He didn’t pack it in like Beal did. He stuck it out, and undercut them.

    Then the Aerospace Corp, which called for the EELVs all along, said that maybe we weren’t ready for market only approaches, and that we needed to have some in-house ability…like what Griffin wanted for NASA.

    So they talked out of both sides of their mouth. Now SLS and Musk are both doing well, and ULA is just trying to stay relevant. Sort of like how the bomb-disposal robot people at JPL kept telling us they found water on Mars every week.

    • Hi Jeff,

      I don’t think a rational person would see the launches of GRAIL, Juno, Curiosity & the numerous (near monthly) launches ULA conducts as “trying to stay relevant.” It seems you’re trying to justify a personal grudge & are willing to ignore facts to do so. SLS has yet to launch, NASA has in fact tapped ULA to launch the first Orion spacecraft next year & while Musk’s SpaceX has only conducted a single launch this year (in fact SpaceX only launches at the rate of about once a year). ULA has conducted six launches so far this year, with six more scheduled for the rest of the year. ULA is the only company currently keeping space in the public eye on a regular basis. You got a problem with ULA? Fine. But don’t ignore the numbers – they don’t lie & they don’t support your comments. Sorry.

      Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace

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