Payload fairing and Centaur upper stage of an Atlas V 411 at Vandenberg AFB
|Founded||December 1, 2006|
|Headquarters||Centennial, Colorado, U.S.|
|Tory Bruno (CEO)|
Number of employees
United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a US launch service provider that manufactures and operates a number of rocket vehicles capable of orbiting spacecraft. It was formed as a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security in December 2006. United States government launch customers include the DoD and NASA, as well as other organizations.
ULA provides launch services using two expendable launch systems – Delta IV Heavy and Atlas V. The Atlas, Delta IV Heavy, and recently retired Delta IV Medium launch system families have launched a variety of payloads including weather, telecommunications, and national security satellites and scientific probes and orbiters. ULA provides launch services to commercial satellites.
ULA is currently in the process of developing Vulcan Centaur, a successor to the Atlas V that also incorporates some Delta IV technology. As of 2019, Vulcan launches were planned to begin in 2021. The Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) is planned to replace Centaur V on Vulcan no earlier than 2023.
Headquarters and manufacturing
ULA's largest factory is 1.6 million square feet and located in Decatur, Alabama. A factory in Harlingen, Texas fabricates and assembles components for the Atlas V rocket. In 2015, the company announced the opening of an engineering and propulsion test center in Pueblo, Colorado.
The company operates orbital launch sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB). CCAFS is located on the US East Coast, allowing satellites to head east and gain extra momentum from the rotation of the Earth. VAFB is located on the US West Coast, with a clear flight path to the south, allowing launches to polar orbit.
Atlas V and Delta IV
On 14 August 2019, it was announced that the second Vulcan Centaur certification flight will be the first of six Dream Chaser CRS-2 flights. Launches are planned to begin in 2021 and will use the four-SRB Vulcan configuration.
On 19 August 2019, it was announced that Astrobotic Technology's Peregrine lander will launch on the first Vulcan certification flight. Peregrine is currently intended to launch in 2021 from the dual-use SLC-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
An uncontested $11 billion US Air Force block-buy of 36 rocket cores for up to 28 launches, awarded in Dec 2013, drew a protest from competitor SpaceX. SpaceX has claimed the cost of ULA's launches are approximately $460 million each, and has proposed a price of $90 million to provide similar launches. In response, then-CEO Michael Gass claimed an average launch price of $225 million, with future launches as low as $100 million.
ULA's original CEO Michael Gass stepped down in August 2014 and was replaced by Tory Bruno.
In October 2014, ULA announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce. CEO Tory Bruno stated in November 2014 that the structuring was intended to "lead to improvements in how ULA interacts with its customers, both governmental and commercial," shorten launch cycles, and cut launch costs in half again. ULA is transitioning to operating two launch pads, down from five in 2015.
In May 2015, ULA stated that it would go out of business unless it won commercial and civil satellite launch orders to offset an expected slump in U.S. military and spy launches. The same month, ULA announced it would decrease its executive ranks by 30 percent in December 2015, with the layoff of 12 executives. The management layoffs are the "beginning of a major reorganization and redesign" as ULA endeavours to "slash costs and hunt out new customers to ensure continued growth despite the rise of SpaceX".
In January 2018, ULA took over marketing and sales responsibilities for Atlas V launches.
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 NRO declared the launch a success.
A launch of the Atlas V rocket on March 22, 2016 had a minor first-stage anomaly that led to shutdown of the first-stage engine approximately five seconds before anticipated. The Centaur upper stage was able to compensate by firing for approximately one minute longer than planned, using reserved fuel margin.
- National Security Space Launch
- Aerojet Rocketdyne (RS-68 and RL10)
- RUAG Space (payload fairings, composite structures)
- Blue Origin (BE-4)
- Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (Graphite-Epoxy Motor)
Launch Service Providers:
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[the] plan to field a new rocket engine with Blue Origin called the BE-4 is only step one of a larger strategic plan to take the company from a sole-source benefactor mentality to competing in a burgeoning commercial market. ... The Atlas V and Delta IV ... both have a limited future.
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"United Launch Alliance Assumes Marketing and Sales for Atlas V Commercial Launches from Lockheed Martin". United Launch Alliance. 22 January 2018. Archived from the original on 17 April 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced today that it has assumed responsibility for the marketing and sales of Atlas V, the world’s most reliable launch vehicle, from Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services. In addition to performing all of the operational activities related to Atlas V launch services, as ULA has done since its formation in 2006, ULA now has the full authority to market and sell Atlas V launch services to commercial customers.
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- United Launch Alliance site
- Distributed Launch - Enabling Beyond LEO Missions, a ULA take on propellant depots and propellant-cargo launches, September 2015.
- Launch Vehicle Recovery and Reuse, AIAA paper, 2015.
- Free CubeSat rideshares offered by ULA for Atlas V launches, November 2015.
- Boeing, Lockheed Martin to Form Launch Services Joint Venture
- FTC gives prelimanary clearance to United Launch Alliance
- United Launch Alliance begins Operations
- U.S. Rocket Supplier Looks to Break ‘Short Leash’, Wall Street Journal, 19 July 2015.