Space Access 10: ULA’s Jeff Patton Reviews Atlas V and Delta IV Crew Capability

United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy.Jeff Patton
United Launch Alliance

Patton began by reviewing ULA’s history:

  • ULA launches Delta II, Delta IV and Atlas V rockets
  • Joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin – 1,300 launches over 50+ years
  • Since ULA was formed, it has had a 100 percent mission success rate – 39 missions, including 10 commercial missions

He pointed out that these versions of the rockets were developed within the last ten years under the military’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. Because they carry vital national security payloads, both rockets were designed to very high levels of reliability.

Patton said that ULA is confident that it could have a human-rated version of the Delta IV or Atlas V ready to fly within four years, before a crew vehicle was ready. By that time, both rockets will have lengthy flight histories.

There are two technologies required to human-rate the Delta IV and Atlas V:

  1. Emergency detection system
  2. In-line crew abort system

Earlier this year, NASA gave $6.7 million to ULA to design and develop a prototype of the detection system. He said that any modifications required by NASA would be useful for launching satellites. The company wants to avoid having multiple variants of the rockets.

Patton gave the following cost estimates for launches:

  • Low non-recurring costs (launch facilities): $400
  • Recurring costs (per launch): $130 million

Patton said ULA has been working on commercial crew projects and human-rating standards for years. Projects include:

  • In 2002, NASA selected Atlas V and Delta IV to launch the Orbital Space Plane
  • ULA has been working with Bigelow Aerospace for four or five years on the company’s space station project
  • It is supporting Boeing’s effort to develop a commercial crew module.
  • It has worked closely with Sierra Nevada Corporation for the past four or five years on Dream Chaser, a small space shuttle that would fly on an Atlas V;
  • ULA and Sierra Nevada will conduct a wind-tunnel test on the Atlas V/Dream Chaser configuration to determine what modifications are required for the booster.

He reviewed Bigelow’s schedule, which begins in 2014 with seven assembly launches for its Sundancer space station. The flight rate goes up to 20 launches per year when the company launches its second station in 2106. Patton said that NASA’s commercial crew program would serve as a basis under which ULA could offer the same service to Bigelow, creating economies of scale that would make it profitable for ULA.