COLORADO SPRINGS — United Launch Alliance will begin flying Vulcan hardware on Atlas 5 rockets this year in an effort to give the next-generation launcher bona fide flight heritage before its debut in 2021.
ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket, with 79 consecutive successful flights, has a track record rivaled only by the European Ariane 5. The only blemish on Atlas 5’s record is a 2007 mission where its upper stage underperformed while carrying a classified satellite into orbit. ULA still considers the NROL-30 mission one of Atlas 5’s 79 successes since the satellite reached its destination using onboard thrusters.
Reliability has been a top selling point for United Launch Alliance, especially as the company fights to preserve its share of U.S government launches while elbowing its way into the commercial market, competing more aggressively with SpaceX, Arianespace, and others.
“The follow-on has to be as good as the previous, the Atlas 5,” said Marco Caceres, a Teal Group analyst who covers launch. “And it has to be cheaper, because otherwise they can’t really compete commercially successfully to any large degree against SpaceX.”
As ULA prepares for Vulcan Centaur, the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture will be starting over with a new vehicle ...