The Halloween launch of the Air Force/Boeing GPS 2F-11 satellite on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket begins a season of change for ULA and its new military space competitor SpaceX, who wants to hand ULA its head in future Air Force competitions. Space launch management reorganizations at both ULA and the Air Force are part of the looming ULA versus SpaceX competition.
ULA this week made wholesale changes in its launch and marketing management as part of an effort to shrink management by 30 percent while bringing in new outside expertise to lead the company.
The GPS launch was delayed one day from Oct. 30 when repairs had to be made to a leaking valve in the Launch Complex 41 water deluge system.
The liftoff into sunny skies of the of the 196-foot-tall Atlas-V 401 rocket, with no solid rocket boosters, occurred at 12:13 p.m. EDT at the opening of a 19-minute launch window. Powered by 860,000 lbs (390,089 kg) of thrust from its Russian Energomash RD-180 engine, the Atlas flew northeast directly up the eastern seaboard on a launch azimuth of 45.8 degrees before arching over eastern Newfoundland.
“Congratulations to the entire team on today’s successful launch of the GPS IIF-11 satellite! Today’s launch was made possible by the exceptional performance and teamwork exhibited by the entire team, including the men and women of ULA, our many mission partners, and our U.S. Air Force customer,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “GPS is omnipresent in our everyday lives and the system provides a critical service to the all of those serving in our military around the world. All of the operational GPS satellites have been launched on Atlas and Delta rockets and the U.S. Air Force does an outstanding job of operating this essential system.”
At 4 minutes 19 seconds into the flight, the RD-180 shutdown and first stage separation was followed by the first ignition of the second stage Centaur Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C engine, generating 22,900-lbs (10, 387-kg) thrust. That critical firing lasted about 13 minutes until cutoff over the mid-North Atlantic.
After coasting for 3 hours 17 minutes, the Centaur was restarted for a roughly 90-second second burn, followed by spacecraft release from the Centaur south of Australia, near Antarctica 3 hours 23 minutes after liftoff, in an 11,047 nautical mile orbit inclined 55 degrees to the equator.
The mission ends the busiest month ever for Atlas-Vs, involving more than $1.5 billion in rocket and satellite hardware. During October, three $164 million Atlas Vs orbited four satellites, including:
—The $245 million GPS 2F-11 today.
—The $500 million NRO-55 twin military ocean surveillance satellites launched Oct. 8 from Vandenberg AFB, Calif.
—And the $300 million Boeing/Morelos 3 satcom launched from the Cape Oct. 2 on ULA’s 100th successful mission (including Delta IVs).
The next and final GPS 2F satellite, GPS 2F-12, is being readied for a similar Atlas V launch in February, after the planned return to flight in December of the SpaceX Falcon 9 on what could be an impressive but also risky mission carrying 11 Orbcomm communications satellites.
Also as early as Dec. 3, a ULA Atlas-V is to launch the fifth Orbital Sciences Cygnus freighter to the International Space Station on the return to flight for the Cygnus after the spectacular failure of an Antares/Cygnus-4 launcher at Wallops, Va., almost exactly one year ago.
ULA, around March 10, 2016, is to use another Atlas V to launch a second Cygnus before Orbital ATK’s Antares rocket returns to flight later in 2016.
The new 3,400-lb (1,542-kg) GPS 2F-11 will replace the GPS 2R-10 launched in 2003. That 12-year-old spacecraft will take on a backup role in the expanded GPS constellation with more than 30 spacecraft that ensures at least 24 satellites are operational at any given time, with four spacecraft in view of any given spot on Earth.
The flight marked the 59th Atlas V launch overall and the 29th Atlas 401 with no solid motors, a 13-foot (4-meter) shroud, and a single engine Centaur upper stage.
Within the last days leading up to this launch, both the Air Force and ULA made significant changes to their space launch organizational structures.
On Oct. 14, at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center (SMC), Los Angeles Air Force Base, commanders officially stood up a new Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate geared to better initiate new competition between SpaceX and ULA.
The Air Force says that under the leadership of Dr. Claire Leon, the new directorate brings together the Launch Systems Directorate and the Rocket Systems Launch Program (RSLP) which formerly fell under SMC’s Advanced Systems and Development Directorate at Kirtland AFB, N.M.
“Until today, the Air Force has procured and executed space launch capabilities through two separate organizations,” said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, the Air Force program executive officer for space and the SMC commander. “This created the potential for ambiguity among our stakeholders and a disconnect in our acquisition strategy,” he said. With this change “we unify Air Force space launch capabilities under one directorate to synchronize our acquisition activities,” Greaves added.
“Space launch is not a service for which one must come up with a value proposition, but rather it is a must-have utility in our national policy of assured access to space,” Greaves continued.
“As the space environment continues to evolve with the addition of new [launch vehicle entrants like SpaceX], we must build upon that foundation to drive and provide innovative, resilient, and affordable launch solutions for the Air Force and the nation.”
The Launch Systems Directorate’s mission was to acquire, operate, and sustain affordable expendable launch and range capability primarily through the Delta II and the EELV program.
Until the recent certification of the SpaceX Falcon-9, the EELV program consisted of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Delta IV and Atlas V rockets.
SMC’s RSLP program was to execute several small to medium launches, deliver realistic targets for Missile Defense Agency’s test program, and provide oversight of available “Peacekeeper” intercontinental ballistic missile motors. The SMC’s new Launch System Enterprise Directorate will bring the best of these two worlds together, said Greaves.
The new directorate’s mission is to be the “Guardian of assured access: Launching when and where the nation needs it.” SMC/LE’s vision statement is to be the most respected and innovative spacelift team, delivering mission success while enabling a robust U.S. launch industry with competition.
“This realignment will not only advance our capability development, but will feed into the next generation of SMC’s space systems and into architectural baselines for decades to come,” Greaves said.
“This is an exciting and dynamic time in the launch industry with robust design efforts and the reintroduction of competition for launch,” Leon said.
Her priorities for the new directorate are to continue SMC’s focus on mission success, provide continuing assured access to space, transition from the use of RD-180 engines, and reintroduce new launch competition as with SpaceX or other competitors.
Then this week, ULA also announced a new executive leadership team to lead the company’s transformation, following the departure of about a dozen former managers given early retirement packages. The new team is to maintain focus on mission success, gear for completion with SpaceX and develop ULA’s new Vulcan launch vehicle.
“As we work to transform the way ULA does business, and in turn, the launch services business as a whole, it is critical to ensure we have exceptional people leading this company into the future,” said Tory Bruno, president and chief executive officer.
“This reorganization will align ULA to position our product line to support emerging market needs, continue to drive out cost, and maintain our strong record of reliability and mission success.”
The “new leadership team represents the top professionals in their respective areas and leaders that have demonstrated an exceptionally strong vision toward innovation and change,” said Dan Collins, chief operating officer.
ULA’s Vulcan rocket will transform the future of space launch and will offer customers unprecedented flexibility in a single system. In addition, ULA is preparing to return to human spaceflight with the launch of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner atop the Atlas V rocket.
“All of the innovation and game-changing advances mean more capabilities in space, which means more capabilities here on Earth, and we haven’t even begun to realize the full potential of space exploration and what future capabilities it holds,” said Bruno.
“We cannot even begin to imagine how new innovators will use space travel to progress a multitude of industries – from medicine to telecommunications to national security. The opportunities in space are truly endless.”
The new ULA Executive Leadership Team Includes:
- Liane George: Human Resources. She had been with Sierra Nevada.
- John Keenan: Chief Information Officer. He had been the vice president of IT at Newmount Mining Co.
- Charlie Krisch: Standard Services
- Laura Maginnis: Custom Services
- Cindy Nafus: Quality, Safety & Mission Success
- Paul Neary: Chief Financial Officer. He had been with Boeing.
- Mark Peller: Major Development
- Robbie Sabathier: Washington Operations and Communications
- Dr. George Sowers: Advanced Programs. He had been running ULA’s Human Launch Services
- Brett Tobey: Engineering
- Gary Wentz: Human Launch Services, who was hired away from Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch
BELOW: Additional photos from the successful launch of GPS 2F-11 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
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