Will United Launch Alliance Prevail?

These are the most competitive and trying times United Launch Alliance (ULA) has seen in its storied 10-year existence.  ULA is a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin providing launch services to the US government. Their primary launch vehicles are the Delta II, AtlasV, and Delta IV. Under development is the Vulcan rocket designed for lifting cargo and soon commercial crew aboard Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Until now, they have had a monopoly on military contracts. This is changing.

United Launch Alliance Vulcan 561
                                 Image: ULA.COM Vulcan 561

Now, bring in private launch services provider, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), who was awarded its first military contract, a GPS payload launched in 2016. Space X offers a much lower $62,000,000 payload contract with its flight-proven booster, a second stage (in testing for return landings) and flight-proven Dragon capsule.

The next gen of launch vehicles for the two companies: Falcon-9, Vulcan-561, Falcon-Heavy, Vulcan Heavy. (Keeping in mind the AtlasV and DeltaIV are being phased out)

Falcon-9: $62 Million/GTO/26.7mT
Vulcan-561: $99 Million/GTO/15.1mT
Falcon Heavy: $90 Million/GTO/26.7mT
Vulcan Heavy: $N/A/GTO/22.7mT
The Vulcan, Falcon Heavy and Vulcan Heavy have not flown. Prices are estimates.

Other distractions for ULA are staff and management reductions, renaming the company and SpaceX’s capture of new market share with the announcement of the Air Force X-37B contract. Note: This writer’s choice for company (ULA) name would be Vulcan Aerospace.

CEO Tory Bruno was brought in to make ULA more competitive. So far, they have reduced launch cost for the Atlas V to start at approximately $109,000,000 for its 401 version to $154,000,000 for its 551 version.

Tory Bruno, portrait. CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA)
    CEO Tory Bruno      Photo: ULA

It’s very difficult to get an apple to apple comparison on launch vehicles, figures are estimates based on published reports, add on incentives, interviews, press conferences, and tours. Factors such as insurance, reliability, less downtime, life expectancy extensions due to orbit insertion precision all weigh in on total launch costs. These criteria ULA scores high marks on.

Of recent note ULA CEO Tory Bruno said when asked if ULA bid for the Air Force’s X-37B, “No. We were not given the opportunity to bid”. Albeit, a high profile launch contract, only 1 maybe 2 X-37B’s will launch this year or early next year and may not even put a dent in ULA’s financial position.  That doesn’t imply there will not be other single-launch or multi-launch contracts in the future for United Launch Alliance. Maybe a whole fleet of newer variations will be orbiting/stationary in LEO. 

Whatever name they choose, United Launch Alliance will continue to be known for incredible reliability and launch time proficiencies. Many supporters in government, military, business, and the general public want them to prevail. 



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