ULA Slashes Atlas V Price

A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket carrying EchoStar XIX satellite lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41 at 2:13 p.m. ET. (Credit: United Launch Alliance/Lockheed Martin)

ULA has cut the price of its least expensive launch vehicle, the Atlas V, by more than one third.

“We’re seeing that price is even more important than it had been in the past,” Tory Bruno, chief executive of United Launch Alliance, or ULA, said during an interview at the U.S. Space Symposium in Colorado Springs.

“We’re dropping the cost of Atlas almost every day. Atlas is now down more than a third in its cost,” Bruno said.

As of December 2016, a baseline Atlas 5 rocket launch was selling for about $109 million, though satellite operators can make up at least half that cost by getting more favorable insurance rates and other factors, including an on-time launch, ULA has said.

In contrast, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, lists the base price of a Falcon 9 rocket launch on its website at $62 million.

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  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    1/3 off! Those prices are INSANE!. It’s good to see ULA being able to cash in on the price differential between insurance and for their on time record. They need to live it up, because if SX stops losing payloads and starts launching on time, they’re going to have to have plan B ready.

  • Terry Stetler

    What they really needed to do with Vulcan was to eliminate the need for solid boosters, but they didn’t. There’s always a non-zero chance one will fail, and each adds to the bottom line price. And what about reusability? Has ULA done mass simulator parachute tests to see if “Smart Reuse” is even viable? If not the price gap reappears as Blue, SpaceX etc. reuse partial or entire launchers.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Look at Space X in the eyes of a 60+ year old prime contractor. They lose payloads, they are very very very late. And they actively work to lower the cost to the customer. I’m sure you noticed how Tesla was valued higher than Ford Motors today? The primes view Space X’s lead to be just as artificial and contrived. Because they don’t want to change their game, they’re betting it will all collapse. It sure looks like SX is getting ready to run away with everything. My bet is, if SX can do well over the next two years, Vulcan will be killed, and like you said, an arrangement with BO will come about. I’ll throw in one more option for them (the primes). Look up the 1925 Kelly Air Mail Act. There was this little part about manufactures of airplanes not being allowed to run their own airlines. Should SX break out for real, something like that is coming their way.

  • Paul Thomas

    With 2 solids and non reusability the cost to launch a Spaceliner will be much higher than a Dragon 2 on a re-useable Falcon 9 (projected figures anyone?). Tourists when it happens, will save a lot of money on the Dragon.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    “…use a Blue Origin New Glenn first stage…”
    Excellent suggestion – apart from spreading the development cost, it could also make for some improved economies of scale. And, more flights should increase reliability confidence. A win win for BO and ULA, and space launch generally, especially given the outdated design of Vulcan.

  • passinglurker

    People always rag on ULA for not really trying to reuse the first stage. They don’t really realize how ULA’s strategy with ACES fits together.

    Basically today ULA first stages are squeezed for every last drop the selling point being the more fuel they burn the less fuel the payload has to burn to fix its orbit (its a bit more involved than I make it sound you need a long endurance upper stage and all that jazz but you get the idea) When ACES comes online every extra drop of fuel they put in orbit by squeezing the first stage dry fuels thier tug services which potentially is as profitable as recovering the first stage.

    Point is there is more than one path to competitiveness not everyone needs to be like spaceX or blue origin to survive the market.

  • Jeff2Space

    The problem is that SpaceX quite likely isn’t going away. The existing players were all laughing at how “unworkable” the first horseless carriages were and didn’t think they’d ever become practical. So, they kept on making the best buggy whips money could buy.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I hope you’re right. But SX is not safe yet. Look at it from the POV of the primes. SX has come close to closing shop at least once that we know of. It may be more. Additionally, it’s taken them 15 years to get this far. Almost another generation of retiree fund contributors and man hours to charge the government. From the POV of the primes, they think they made the best decisions money could buy. They’re too big to fail, they know Uncle Sam won’t let them die, and he won’t. They’ll be given a lifeline of some sort if it comes to that. That is unless SX wants to give up it’s independent agenda and become a prime themselves.

  • windbourne

    ace is about the SECOND stage, not the first.
    As such, it makes far more sense for ULA to get a re-usable first stage.
    Bruno is not going to allow it.

    And as far as squeezing every last drop, the F9 and FH will put up a great deal more then top of the line atlas and both will costs less.

  • windbourne

    careful.
    Now you are sounding like nasaghost.
    Basically, ULA needs to build 100% their own rocket. That means that later on, they will need to own their own engine.

  • windbourne

    That kelly airmail is exactly why I continue to push for a COTS/SA for 2 habitats. Then in 2 more years, another COTS/SA for doing lunar landings.
    We could be on the moon by 2022 or earlier.

  • windbourne

    SX has NEVER come close to closing shop.
    Musk came close to having to sell it, but that is a different issue.

    And once BO is running and competing with SX, the feds will be happy to allow the primes to die in space if they will not compete.

  • Vladislaw

    I would howl if Musk did a parody of that … lol

  • passinglurker

    My god you are thick headed. I know aces is about the second stage that’s the whole point reusable DeltaV in orbit is money in the bank every bit they can get into orbit counts it’s how they earn back the cost of throwing away the first stage by offering ferrying and reboosts.

  • Arthur Hamilton

    ULA doesn’t always launch on time. They have delays, especially during the past 2 years. They have had to stand down Atlas V to fix engine/engine compartment problems. Perhaps it’s related to the problems that Russia is having with their engine manufacturers.

  • ReSpaceAge

    Likely ACES hardware will be flying on Blue Origin Boosters one way or the other . I had previously tweeted “Who will own the first gas station in Space” and Mr. Brono’s reply was “an entrepreneur”
    He then liked my tweet below https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cd3bbcf0596e42605d45cb4c9d2fe3d95ae0087fd35d50c7a292022846af45bf.png

  • Paul_Scutts

    Terry, I suggested the idea of ULA employing a re-badge New Glen first stage almost a year ago when Bruno announced that ULA had selected the BE4 as the front-runner replacement engine for the RD-180. Bruno has been placed in a very difficult position by Boeing and LM, that of not having the up-front funds provided to develop ULA’s own fully-reusable booster tech (required to compete with SpaceX in the commercial launch market). His only option was/is to switch the up-front R&D costs to back-end royalty payments to BO, if BO was/is agreeable. Bezos and Bruno were really buddy-buddy at the time and have appeared to remain so. Time will tell if this continues. Regards, Paul.

  • Jeff2Space

    SpaceX has ULA, one of “the primes:” running scared. ULA has gotten rid of quite a few employees to cut costs and is working fast and furiously on Vulcan (which wouldn’t even exist if it wasn’t for pressure from SpaceX).

    Competition is a good thing. The customers who are still waiting for flights from SpaceX know that. Even the US Government knows that. They all have a vested interest in making sure that SpaceX doesn’t go under in order to maintain active competition in the industry.