ULA Achieves Third Launch in October

Atlas V launches GPS IIF-11 satellite. (Credit: ULA)
Atlas V launches GPS IIF-11 satellite. (Credit: ULA)

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, Fla., (Oct. 31, 2015) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying the Global Positioning System (GPS) IIF-11 satellite for the U.S. Air Force lifted off from Space Launch Complex-41 Oct. 31 at 12:13 p.m. EDT.

GPS IIF-11 is one of the next-generation GPS satellites that incorporate numerous improvements to provide greater accuracy, increased signals and enhanced performance for users.

“Congratulations to the entire team on today’s successful launch of the GPS IIF-11 satellite! Today’s launch was made possible by the exceptional performance and teamwork exhibited by the entire team, including the men and women of ULA, our many mission partners, and our U.S. Air Force customer,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “GPS is omnipresent in our everyday lives and the system provides a critical service to the all of those serving in our military around the world. All of the operational GPS satellites have been launched on Atlas and Delta rockets and the U.S. Air Force does an outstanding job of operating this essential system.”

This mission was ULA’s 11th launch in 2015 and the 102nd successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006. This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (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 the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine.

GPS IIF-11 will join the GPS worldwide timing and navigation system utilizing 24 satellites in six different planes, with a minimum of four satellites per plane positioned in orbit approximately 11,000 nautical miles above the Earth’s surface. The GPS IIF series provides improved accuracy and enhanced performance for GPS users.

ULA’s next launch is the Atlas V OA-4 capsule for Orbital ATK scheduled for Dec. 3 from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

The EELV program was established by the U.S. 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.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the most experienced and reliable launch service provider. ULA has successfully delivered more than 100 satellites to orbit that provide critical capabilities for troops in the field, aid meteorologists in tracking severe weather, enable personal device-based GPS navigation and unlock the mysteries of our solar system.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at www.ulalaunch.com, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321). Join the conversation at www.facebook.com/ulalaunch, twitter.com/ulalaunch and instagram.com/ulalaunch.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    ULA is positioning itself to take orders away from Space X on schedule alone. One wonders what the contractual terms are when it comes to Space X not being able to meet a launch date. I would imagine there has been a flurry of date changes to customers over the past 3 years….. Things are getting interesting.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    ULA is good at launching rockets.

  • That’s what competition in a free market is all about. The hard part was getting them to admit that they are a commercial enterprise that needs to compete with the open market. It took a couple of billionaires to do that.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Agreed. If Space X were not there, I doubt ULA would have invested in the ability to pull off 3 launches a month.

  • I think it’s extra impressive that it was the same vehicle (Atlas V). They had to use the same launch pad twice, which means they had to use all the tooling, storage and personnel for two of those (in addition to all the production facilities THREE times).

    At the Cape, they launched on September 2, October 2 and October 31. That means ULA can RELIABLY do 1 month turns on those facilities. WOW!

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    That’s quite the line card they can write to potential customers. I’m going to place my bets that the next round of launch contracts will still be majority American, but Space X won’t monopolize them. I guess that’s predicated on ULA’s ability to source more RD-180’s for commercial launches. The ban is on RD-180’s for DOD launches, ban PERIOD? … Right?

  • mzungu

    these launches are planned years/months ahead of time, long B4 SpaceX have their little BooBoos.

  • Kapitalist

    Yeah, might have needed a bit of a scare in order to make use of their abilities. But part of it could maybe be steady progress in technology and routine.

  • TimAndrews868

    Yes, the ban is for DoD launches only. Commercial and NASA launches are not included.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    I agree, with one caveat. The hard was getting ULA’s *parents* to admit they need compete.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    One month turns *are* impressive. Heck, I was impressed when ULA was *averaging* a launch a month, spread out across vehicles and coasts.

  • Hug Doug

    It’s worth noting that SpaceX was averaging 28 days between launches (6 launches) in 2015 before the loss of CRS-7.

  • mfck

    Does it? Based on three data points?

  • TimAndrews868

    “They had to use the same launch pad twice, which means they had to use all the tooling, storage and personnel for two of those.”

    Two from the same pad in just under a month’s time is impressive.

    What’s the record for an orbital launch turn-around time on the same pad?

    SpaceX did it at LC-40 in just two weeks last year. I expect Russia’s probably done it faster at some point.

  • Vladislaw

    So you are saying that ULA is now building rockets on their own dime and waiting for SpaceX customers to jump ship and buy them? Because it takes quite a while to build a rocket and if you are 8-9 months behind on a sat launch, would you kill that contract and order a totally new bird from someone else that will take years and cost twice as much?

  • Vladislaw

    does ULA have the engines to make that flight rate routine?

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I was not implying that existing contracts would change boosters, only that future launch contracts might go to Atlas and Falcon. Sat manufacturers might spread their launches between ULA and Space X just as some airlines buy both Airbus and Boeing. That way they can play off the best of both providers.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    No I’m thinking along the lines of future sat builds will be tasked to ULA and Space X. Space X’s prices are great, but it’s going to take a long time to live down this failure and the gap. GEO birds make or break it on time on station. Paying an extra $60mil is well worth it when you consider a year or more of waiting for launch. And that will happen for some of these payloads.

  • windbourne

    just not cheaply.

  • windbourne

    hmmmm.
    I agree with you that their schedule leaves a lot to be desired. In fact, I have commented multiple times that I believe that this was going to be an issue for them down the road.
    But, as to the failure, assuming that it was a 3rd party, then it would appear that SpaceX has taken care of things. For starters, they have brought the strut manufacturing in-house (and I suspect a number of other parts as well). In addition, they have hired a number of QA ppl. That would tell me that Spacex is making sure that they have no real future issue.

    Finally, as to the launch schedule, they are about to have 4 different launch sites (3 for regular (2 at kennedy and 1 in texas) and 1 for polar launches). Once that occurs, I suspect that SpaceX will be able to increase their launch schedule easily.

  • windbourne

    Not really. It was up to Gass to convince them of the importance. He never attempted to because he never saw it as a need. He was perfectly happy to wallow at the pork barrel that ppl like Shelby and Coffman gave him.