United Launch Alliance

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United Launch Alliance
Industry Aerospace
Founded December 1, 2006
Headquarters Centennial, Colorado
Key people
Products Atlas V, Delta II, Delta IV
Number of employees
Website United Launch Alliance

United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security. ULA was formed in December 2006 by combining the teams at these companies which provide spacecraft launch services to the government of the United States. U.S. government launch customers include both the Department of Defense and NASA, as well as other organizations.

ULA provides launch services using three expendable launch systemsDelta II, Delta IV and Atlas V. The Atlas and Delta launch system families have been used for more than 50 years to carry a variety of payloads including weather, telecommunications and national security satellites, as well as deep space and interplanetary exploration missions in support of scientific research. ULA also provides launch services for non-government satellites: Lockheed Martin retains the rights to market Atlas commercially.[2]

Beginning in October 2014, ULA announced that they intended to undertake a substantial restructuring of the company, its products and processes, in the coming years in order to decrease launch costs. ULA is planning on building a new rocket that will be a successor to the Atlas V, using a new rocket engine on the first stage, with plans to release key design aspects before the end of 2014. In April 2015, they unveiled the new vehicle as the Vulcan, with the first flight of a new first stage no earlier than 2019.


ULA's headquarters building in Centennial, Colorado

Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced their intent to form the United Launch Alliance joint venture on May 2, 2005.[3] ULA merges the production of the government space launch services of the two companies into one central plant in Decatur, Alabama, and merged all engineering into another central plant in Littleton, Colorado. Boeing Integrated Defense Systems Delta IV and Lockheed Martin Space Systems Atlas V are both launchers developed for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program intended to provide the United States government with competitively priced, assured access to space.

ULA had a peak of six space launch facilities during 2005–2011. It announced a consolidation to five in 2008 with the intent to close one of its two Delta II pads,[4] and closed the pad at Cape Canaveral after its final Delta II launch in 2011.[5]

SpaceX challenged the United States antitrust law legality of the launch services monopoly on October 23, 2005. SpaceX is interested in competing for government launch contracts with the Falcon 9 rocket. On January 7, 2006 the Department of Defense gave preliminary approval to the United Launch Alliance.[citation needed]

In September 2006, the Pentagon renewed their support for ULA, and announced their support to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).[citation needed] The FTC gave their anti-trust clearance on October 3, 2006.[6] The joint venture began operations on December 1, 2006.[citation needed]

Two years following company formation from units of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, ULA announced it would lay off 350 workers in early 2009, reducing from a company-wide employment of 4200 employees in 2008.[7] In the event, ULA had approximately 3900 employees by August 2009[8]

In late 2009, ULA announced that it intended to build a new headquarters campus for its operations south of Denver, in Centennial, Colorado, in order to move away from facility space it had shared with Lockheed Martin since 2006 when ULA was founded.[8]

In November 2010, United Launch Alliance was selected by NASA for consideration for potential contract awards for heavy lift launch vehicle system concepts, and propulsion technologies.[9]

It was announced in August 2014 that Michael Gass, ULA CEO since ULA was founded in 2006, would step down immediately and that he would be replaced by Tory Bruno, effective immediately.[10]

In September 2014, it was announced that the firm had won a contract from the United States Air Force for US$938 million for additional work on military rocket launch services related to its existing contracts with the US Air Force.[11]

ULA announced in February 2015 that they are considering undertaking domestic production of the Russian RD-180 engine at the Decatur, Alabama rocket stage manufacturing facility. The US-manufactured engines would be used only for government civil (NASA) or commercial launches, and would not be used for US military launches.[12][dated info]

Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc submitted a $2 billion offer to purchase the joint venture on 8 September 2015.[13] According to industry officials, the bid, if successful, would likely create a unified leadership for the company.[14] On 16 September 2015, spokesperson Todd Blecher for joint owner Boeing commented that Aerojet Rocketdyne's bid was never "seriously entertained" and rejected the offer.[15][16]

Launch vehicles

United Launch Alliance is currently flying:

As of 2014, ULA has begun development of a new launch vehicle to replace both the Atlas and Delta lines of vehicles: the Vulcan. Boeing and Lockheed are investing in the new rocket for a duration of one quarter which will continue to be extended in one quarter periods. ULA further states that they must win commercial and civil (NASA) space flight contracts or they would be forced to go out of business.[17]


ULA program management, engineering, test and mission support functions are headquartered in Centennial, Colorado. Manufacturing, assembly and integration operations are located in two buildings, one at Decatur, Alabama, and the other in Harlingen, Texas.[7][1]

ULA launches from both coasts of the United States, depending on the customer's desired orbit. East coast Atlas V launches take place from Launch Complex 41 while east coast Delta IV launches take place from Launch Complex 37. Both are located in Cape Canaveral, Florida. West coast launches take place from Vandenberg Air Force Base in southern California.[7]

ULA has announced plans to reduce the number of launch pads in use from five in 2015 to only two by 2021, as part of overall company restructuring and the transition from the legacy Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles and to a next-generation launch vehicle (NGLS).[4]


Ignition of the engines of a Delta II.jpg Delta IV Medium 4.2+ (with GOES-N) on launch pad.jpg USA-224 launch.jpg SDOs Atlas V lifted off.jpg Atlas V(551) New Horizons.jpg
United Launch Alliance fleet: left to right, Delta II, Delta IV, Delta IV Heavy, Atlas V 400-series, Atlas V 500-series

The first launch conducted by ULA was of a Delta II, from Vandenberg Air Force Base on December 14, 2006.[18] The rocket carried the USA 193 satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office. This satellite failed shortly after launch and was intentionally destroyed on February 21, 2008 by an SM-3 missile fired from the Ticonderoga class cruiser USS Lake Erie.[19]

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.[20] Nonetheless, the mission was declared a success by the customer.[21]

Commercial and international launches aboard Atlas V and Delta rockets are managed by Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services and Boeing Launch Services, respectively.

Cost controversy

With the introduction of competition from lower-cost launch providers and the increasing costs of ULA launches year-over-year, increased attention has been paid to the amounts ULA has received for US government launch contracts, and for its annual government funding of $1 billion for launch capability and readiness. In particular, an uncontested US Air Force block-buy of 36 rocket cores for up to 28 launches, valued at $11 billion, drew 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.[22] In response, former ULA CEO Michael Gass claimed an average launch price of $225 million, with future launches as low as $100 million.[23]

ULA released contract values to the public and CEO Tory Bruno testified before Congress in March 2015, to "correct these misconceptions".[citation needed] The $11B frequently referred to by SpaceX as covering the cost of 36 cores (28 missions) is incomplete and includes launch costs for another 50 missions. The actual contract structure is for a manufacturing contract of $6.4B to build 50 rockets, a second manufacturing contract to build another 28 rockets, and a third launch contract of $6.9B to fly all 78. The actual average cost of flying ULA's fleet of 15 different rocket types across this window is $225M ($17.6B/78), with the least expensive at $164M, an Atlas V 401 rocket roughly equivalent to a Falcon F9.1, and the most expensive at $400M for the Delta IV Heavy.[citation needed]

ULA Launch Service Costs under the Block Buy
ULA Rocket Fleet Capability

Company restructuring after 2014

In October 2014, ULA announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce in order to decrease launch costs by half. One of the reasons given for the restructuring and new cost reduction goals was competition from SpaceX. ULA intends to have preliminary design ideas in place for a blending of the Atlas V and Delta IV technology by the end of 2014, to build a successor that will allow them to cut launch costs in half.[24] The restructuring is intended to facilitate ULA's shift into providing widespread access to space, and growing the customer base to include significant commercial customers in addition to the principally US government customers of ULA's first decade. CEO Tory Bruno stated in November 2014 that he intends to transform the company and reorganize it "to make it more agile, and establish new business models to adapt to the new environment. These changes will lead to improvements in how ULA interacts with its customers, both governmental and commercial, shorter launch cycles, and launch costs cut in half again."[25] ULA intends to shrink the number of company launch pads from six in 2008 and five in 2015 to only two by 2021 as they ramp down the legacy Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles.[4]

In May 2015, 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]".[26][27]

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.[28]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Quick Facts". Retrieved 21 November 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Justin Ray (November 23, 2009). "Atlas 5 launches Intelsat communications satellite". Spaceflight Now.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "About ULA". ULA.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Butler, Amy (17 February 2015). "Aerospace Daily & Defense Report New Rocket, White Tails In ULA's Long-Term Strategy". Aviation Week. Retrieved 22 February 2015. [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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Graham, William (2 July 2014). "ULA Delta II successfully lofts OCO-2 to orbit". NASASpaceflight.com. Retrieved 22 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. (press release) (October 3, 2006). "FTC gives clearance to United Launch Alliance". Spaceflight Now.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 "United Launch Alliance plans layoffs". Denver Business Journal. 2008-11-14. Retrieved 2014-11-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. 8.0 8.1 Avery, Greg (2009-08-05). "ULA seeks land for a combined HQ". Denver Business Journal. Retrieved 2014-11-16.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "NASA Selects Companies for Heavy-Lift Vehicle Studies". NASA. Retrieved 8 November 2010.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. "United Launch Alliance Taps a Lockheed Executive To Replace CEO Gass". Space News. 2014-08-12. Retrieved 2014-08-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Boeing-Lockheed venture wins $938 million in U.S. rocket launch deal. Reuters, 17 September 2014
  12. Fleischauer, Eric (7 February 2015). "ULA's CEO talks challenges, engine plant plans for Decatur". Decatur Daily. Retrieved 9 February 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Shalal, Andrea (8 September 2015). "Aerojet makes $2 billion offer for Lockheed-Boeing joint venture: sources". Reuters. Retrieved 9 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Pasztor, Andy (8 September 2015). "Aerojet Bids About $2 Billion for Boeing-Lockheed Rocket Venture". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 9 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Shalal, Andrea. "UPDATE 2-Boeing rejects Aerojet Rocketdyne bid for ULA launch venture". Reuters. Retrieved 16 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Boeing rejects Aerojet Rocketdyne bid for ULA launch venture, accessed 2015-09-16.
  17. http://news.yahoo.com/lockheed-boeing-rocket-venture-needs-commercial-orders-survive-205416832--finance.html
  18. "United Launch Alliance set for takeoff". Metro Denver EDC.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "DoD Succeeds In Intercepting Non-Functioning Satellite" (Press release). U.S. Department of Defense. February 20, 2008. Retrieved 2009-10-09.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "NRO Shortfall May Delay Upcoming ULA Missions". Aviation Week.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. "NRO L-30 Launch Update" (PDF). National Reconnaissance Office.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. "SpaceX launches protest of Air Force rocket contract". Defense Systems.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Responding to Critics, ULA Discloses Pricing Information". Space News.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. Avery, Greg (2014-10-16). "ULA plans new rocket, restructuring to cut launch costs in half". Denver Business Journal. Retrieved 2014-11-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Delgado, Laura M. (2014-11-14). "ULA's Tory Bruno Vows To Transform Company". SpacePolicyOnline.com. Retrieved 2014-11-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Shalal, Andrea (2015-05-15). "Lockheed-Boeing venture lays off 12 executives in major reorganization". Reuters. Retrieved 16 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Shalal, Andrea (2015-05-21). "Lockheed-Boeing rocket venture needs commercial orders to survive". Reuters. Archived from the original on 2015-05-22. Retrieved 2015-05-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  28. https://news.yahoo.com/lockheed-boeing-rocket-venture-needs-commercial-orders-survive-205416832--finance.html

External links