United Launch Alliance

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.[2]

United Launch Alliance
FoundedDecember 1, 2006 (2006-12-01)
HeadquartersCentennial, Colorado, U.S.
Key people
Tory Bruno (CEO)
OwnerBoeing, Lockheed Martin 
Number of employees

ULA provides launch services using two expendable launch systemsDelta 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.[3]

ULA is currently in the process of developing Vulcan Centaur, a successor to the Atlas V that also incorporates some Delta IV technology.[4][5] As of 2019, Vulcan launches were planned to begin in 2021.[6] The Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) is planned to replace Centaur V on Vulcan no earlier than 2023.[7][8]


Headquarters and manufacturing

ULA's headquarters in Centennial, Colorado, are responsible for program management, rocket engineering, testing, and launch support functions.[9]

ULA's largest factory is 1.6 million square feet and located in Decatur, Alabama.[10] A factory in Harlingen, Texas, fabricates and assembles components for the Atlas V rocket.[11] In 2015, the company announced the opening of an engineering and propulsion test center in Pueblo, Colorado.[12]

Launch facilities

The company operates orbital launch sites at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) and Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB).[13] 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.[14]

Atlas V launches from SLC-41 at CCAFS,[15][16] and from SLC-3 at VAFB.[17][18]

Delta IV Heavy currently launches from SLC-37 at CCAFS[19][20] and SLC-6 at VAFB.[21][22]

ULA intends to operate only two Vulcan Centaur launch pads by the early 2020s.[23]

Atlas V and Delta IV

ULA operates the Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles.[24][25] The Atlas V and Delta IV rockets were developed under the EELV program, with the first launches of both occurring in 2002.[26]

Delta IV Medium was retired on 22 August 2019,[27][28] but Delta IV Heavy rockets will keep launching heavy payloads.[29]

United Launch Alliance fleet: left to right, Delta IV Heavy, Atlas V 400-series, Atlas V 500-series

Vulcan Centaur

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.[6]

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.[30]


Boeing and Lockheed Martin announced their intent to form a joint venture on 2 May 2005. The United Launch Alliance name was announced at the same time.[31]

ULA had a peak of seven space launch facilities during 2005–2011, including three Delta II launchpads. The Delta II sites were decommissioned starting in 2011.[32]

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.[33] In response, then-CEO Michael Gass claimed an average launch price of $225 million, with future launches as low as $100 million.[34]

ULA's original CEO Michael Gass stepped down in August 2014 and was replaced by Tory Bruno.[35]

In October 2014, ULA announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce.[36] 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.[37] ULA is transitioning to operating two launch pads, down from five in 2015.[23]

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.[38] 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".[39][40]

In July 2017 ULA was awarded $191 million to launch STP-3 aboard a heavy-lift Atlas V 551.[41]

In January 2018, ULA took over marketing and sales responsibilities for Atlas V launches.[42]

Delta IV Heavy launched the Parker Solar Probe on 12 August 2018, marking the first flight of Delta IV Heavy with a Star-48BV kick stage[43] and the highest ever spacecraft velocity.[44]

Notable Launches

The first launch conducted by ULA was a Delta II from Vandenberg Air Force Base on December 14, 2006.[45] The rocket carried the USA-193 satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.[46]

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.[47] The NRO declared the launch a success.[48]

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.[49]

On 8 September 2016, OSIRIS-REx was successfully launched into a heliocentric orbit on an asteroid sample return mission by an Atlas V.[50]

ULA's Atlas V launch of NASA's InSight to Mars in 2018 was the first interplanetary probe to depart from the US West Coast.[51]

The final Delta II rocket was launched on 15 September 2018 with ICESat-2 from SLC-2.[52]

On August 22, 2019, ULA launched its last Delta IV Medium rocket for the GPS III Magellan project.[53]

See also

Past products:

Launch Service Providers:


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