ULA Hits the Big 5-0 with Atlas V Launch

Launch of Atlas V NRO satellite on June 20, 2012. (Credit: ULA)

With all the attention focused on SpaceX, there’s another rocket company that doesn’t get nearly the amount of credit that it deserves because its launches are almost always routine. ULA celebrated a milestone with the 50th launch of its Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program today as an Atlas V booster roared skyward from Cape Canaveral with a National Reconnaissance Office satellite aboard. Both EELVs — the Atlas V and Delta V — have proven to be highly reliable since entering service a decade ago. Each rocket has suffered an early engine cutoff, one of which had a serious impact on mission success.

The official press release is below.

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., June 20, 2012 — (ULA PR) — A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying a payload for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 here at 8:28 a.m. EDT today. Designated NROL-38, the mission is in support of national defense.

“Congratulations to the NRO and to all the mission partners involved in this critical national security launch,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Mission Operations. “This launch marks an important milestone as we celebrate the 50th successful Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) mission, with 31 Atlas V and 19 Delta IV missions flown since August 2002.”

NROL-38 is the first of three critical missions ULA is scheduled to launch for the NRO within the next two months.

“Twelve of the 50 EELV launches have been NRO missions and these have been vital to our overall mission of delivering on commitments critical to our national security,” said Bruce Carlson, director, National Reconnaissance Office. “I thank and congratulate ULA and the EELV program for the tremendous performance and achievement of this very impressive and noteworthy milestone.”

This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V EELV 401 configuration vehicle, which includes a 4-meter diameter payload fairing. The Atlas booster for this mission was powered by the RD AMROSS RD-180 engine and the Centaur upper stage was powered by a single Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne RL10A-4 engine.

Developed by the United States Air Force to provide assured access to space for Department of Defense and other government payloads, the commercially developed EELV Program supports the full range of government mission requirements, while delivering on schedule and providing significant cost savings over the heritage launch systems.

ULA’s next launch is the Delta IV NROL-15 mission for the NRO scheduled June 28 from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

ULA program management, engineering, test, and mission support functions are headquartered in Denver, Colo.  Manufacturing, assembly and integration operations are located at Decatur, Ala., and Harlingen, Texas. Launch operations are located at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif.