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).
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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