National Security Space Launch Mission Demands Precision

Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:13am

Space launch is one of the most risk-intolerant and technologically demanding areas of U.S. national security. Satellites must be placed into orbit with pin-point precision. Today satellites provide a vast array of critical national security capabilities – from supporting U.S. military operations to intelligence collection systems, to civil space exploration and weather monitoring.  


Launch of Delta IV NROL-65, August 28, 2013 from Vandenberg Air
Since its inception in 2006, the United Launch Alliance – which combines the space launch capabilities of The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin – has achieved a 100% mission success rate with 81 consecutive launches. ULA is the only company with the government-certified rockets necessary to fully meet the unique and specialized requirements of the national security space community, through the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.  

Just about every level of our military – from the foot soldier on patrol to a strategic bomber 30,000 feet up – relies on satellites for navigation and communications. A botched or delayed EELV launch could create dangerous gaps in coverage and military capability. The stakes, technical standards, and consequences of failure are all high – so our military and the intelligence community must be very judicious when considering who will be entrusted with these critical missions  

For this reason the Air Force recently negotiated a five-year block buy for the EELV program, a contract which, according to the Department of Defense, will save the U.S. government $4.4 billion during the next five years compared to the previous approach of buying rockets one at a time.  


Launch of Delta IV NROL-65, August 28, 2013 from Vandenberg Air
In recent weeks, a new entrant to the rocket manufacturing business has launched a campaign that distorts the truth about EELV and ULA and attempts to cite budget increases as cost overruns. The fact is annual budgets for EELV do show an increase, but that is because the number of launches has also increased and the program was extended from 2020 to 2030. In reality, EELV costs per launch have continually gone down and are fully accounted for through rigorous oversight of the program with full transparency into EELV’s accounting and business systems.  

ULA does not fear or object to the principle of competition. But the performance records of any company aspiring to enter this highly-sensitive field must be evaluated thoroughly to ensure they will be able to meet the exacting requirements – to include verifiable costs, transparency, and reliability – of national security space missions. If this evaluation takes place, ULA is confident that our performance and value proposition – to the American taxpayer and warfighter – will compare very favorably to any potential competitor.  

Maintaining a viable, safe, and reliable space launch capability is critical to our national security. We have a responsibility to our troops, our country and all American taxpayers to get it right.