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Rocket details laid out in Air Force's 9-launch order
BY JUSTIN RAY
SPACEFLIGHT NOW

Posted: January 18, 2012


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Nine national security spacecraft ranging from spy platforms to navigation birds, communications satellites and weather observatories have been entrusted to Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets in a $1.5 billion booster purchase through the Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, the Defense Department has announced.


File image of Atlas 5 rocket blasting off. Credit: Justin Ray/Spaceflight Now
 
Split between five Atlas and four Delta missions, the payloads will be launched into orbit under firm-fixed-price contracts with rocket-maker United Launch Alliance that was formed five years ago to blend Lockheed Martin's and Boeing's EELV programs into one consolidated organization to serve the government.

The Air Force pushed for ULA's creation to ensure both rocket lines remained viable and alive, while reducing overhead costs and erasing duplication in efforts between the two aerospace giants.

ULA has delivered 56 launches to date, all successfully, for Air Force, National Reconnaissance Office, NASA and commercial customers. Its 57th mission is scheduled for Thursday night from Cape Canaveral with a Defense Department communications satellite.

The Air Force sought, developed, funded and now enjoys the fruits of the EELV program that began in the 1990s as a modular system that would carry all of the military's satellite fleets -- from the smallest to gigantic craft -- into space.

Today's Atlas 5 and Delta 4 boosters replaced the previous Atlas 2, Delta 2 and Titan 4 rockets in carrying the nation's military craft, doing so successfully and cheaper than the heritage systems, officials note.

"There will be multiple EELV buys in (calendar year) 2012," according to the Space and Missile Systems Center's Launch and Range Systems Directorate.

This initial purchase of 9 boosters supports national security space requirements in Fiscal Year 2014, Air Force officials said, and a "second and larger procurement" will be made shortly as a block buy of rockets.

"The solicitation for this procurement is being prepared and is planned to be released (in the) first quarter of 2012. This solicitation will require ULA to propose a range of prices for different rates of booster deliveries over periods between 3 and 5 years. The specific duration of the procurement and number of boosters is scheduled for determination at a date after proposal receipt and evaluation," the Launch and Range Systems Directorate said.

The military's launch services structure includes oversight, insight and management of the ULA contractor workforce to ensure each of the flights are flown successfully, including the program bass at the Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base and the support squadrons at the launch sites.

  Delta
File image of Delta 4-Medium rocket launching a DMSP weather satellite. Credit: Gene Blevins/LA Daily News
 
It's all part of the infrastructure set up to guide the various spacecraft to the right orbit that are relied upon by deployed military warfighters, intelligence analysts, policy-makers and even the millions of civilans around the world who use GPS.

While EELV critics question the costs of Atlas 5 and Delta 4, the Air Force and ULA have been working to reduce pricing by changing the military's purchasing strategy. The new plan would stabilize the situation and cut costs by enabling ULA to order materials and piece-parts in bulk to build rockets in assembly line fashion at the Decatur, Ala., factory each year instead of ordering one rocket at a time, officials contend.

ULA has about 3,600 employees spread across the country at its production facilities, engineering headquarters and launch bases.

This latest deal covers nine launches:

   An Atlas 5-401 rocket with a four-meter nose cone, no solid-fuel boosters and single-engine Centaur will launch the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program 19 (DMSP 19) global weather observatory from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

   An Atlas 5-551 rocket with a five-meter nose cone, five solid-fuel boosters and single-engine Centaur will launch the third Mobile User Objective System (MUOS 3) communications satellite for the U.S. Navy from Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

   An Atlas 5-541 rocket with a five-meter nose cone, four solid-fuel boosters and single-engine Centaur will launch the National Reconnaissance Office's classified NROL-67 mission from Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

   An Atlas 5-401 rocket with a four-meter nose cone, no solid-fuel boosters and single-engine Centaur will launch the National Reconnaissance Office's classified NROL-33 mission from Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

   An Atlas 5-501 rocket with a five-meter nose cone, no solid-fuel boosters and single-engine Centaur will launch the National Reconnaissance Office's classified NROL-39 mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

   A Delta 4 Medium with a four-meter nose cone and no solid boosters will launch the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program 20 (DMSP 20) global weather observatory from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

   A Delta 4 Medium+ (4,2) rocket with a four-meter nose cone and two solid boosters will launch the Air Force Space Command-4 mission from Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

   And a pair Delta 4 Medium+ (4,2) rockets with four-meter nose cones and two solid boosters will launch two missions carrying Global Positioning System navigation satellites to maintain and upgrade the orbiting constellation from Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. One flight will support the GPS Block 2F satellite program and the other will cover either 2F or the future GPS 3 series.

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