NASA Selects ULA’s Reliable Atlas V Rocket to Launch Mars 2020 Mission

Atlas V liftoff (Credit: ULA)
Atlas V liftoff (Credit: ULA)

Centennial, Colo., Aug. 25, 2016 (ULA PR) – NASA’s Launch Services Program announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) proven Atlas V vehicle to launch Mars 2020, its next robotic science rover. This award resulted from a competitive procurement under the NASA Launch Services contract.

“We are honored that NASA has selected ULA to provide another robotic science rover to Mars on this tremendously exciting mission,” said Laura Maginnis, ULA’s vice president of Custom Services. “Our launch vehicles have a rich heritage with Mars, supporting 17 successful missions over more than 50 years. ULA and our heritage rockets have launched every U.S. spacecraft to the red planet, including Mars Science Lab, as well as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers.”

The Mars 2020 mission is scheduled to launch in summer 2020 from Space Launch Complex-41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. This mission will launch aboard an Atlas V 541 vehicle, which includes a 5-meter diameter payload fairing and four solid rocket motors.

“With 64 successful missions spanning more than a decade of operational service, the commercially developed Atlas V is uniquely qualified to provide the best value launch service for these critical science missions,” said Tory Bruno, ULA CEO and president.

The Mars 2020 rover mission is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet, and will address high-priority science goals for Mars exploration, including key questions about the potential for life on Mars.

ULA also will launch NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission to Mars in May 2018.

With more than a century of combined heritage, United Launch Alliance is the nation’s 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.

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  • Zed_WEASEL

    What competitive process is NASA referring to? The Atlas V is the only current US launcher rated to carry and can integrated vertically RTG equipped payloads.

    Too bad the Falcon 9 can not bid for this mission. It is about one third the cost of a Atlas V 541 launch.with greater performance margins.

    Should be an interesting compariing between the Mare 2020 Rover mission versus the multiple Red Dragon missions going to Mars at the same time. Maybe even the appearance of some Teslas doing some autonomous driving on Mars.

  • JamesG

    Just because there was no competition doesn’t mean there wasn’t a process. 😉

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Isn’t there ALWAYS a process?

  • JamesG

    NASA doesn’t do anything without a plan, process, or procedure. Usually all three, with multiple cascading contingencies.

  • windbourne

    uh, DIVH comes to mind.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Not rated for RTG and $600M+ in launch cost.

  • Kapitalist

    The difference is that F9 failed last year. And the launch cost difference is only about 8% of the mission budget (although the hard to estimate replacement cost should be the figure considered). I doubt that the promised 2018, to be launched in 2020, Red Dragon will deploy any successful rover. Focus is on landing it at all, it’s more mass than everything landed on Mars thus far.
    A yet untested, but seemingly necessary, approach to EDL on Mars:
    https://youtu.be/ZoSKHzziLKw?t=1850

  • mlc449

    I wish NASA would stop dícking around and approve Musk’s proposed Red Dragon mission.

  • Kapitalist

    That’s silly a paperwork issue. Two RTGs have been crashed on Earth. One was fished up out of the ocean and reused on another satellite! The other was on the Apollo 13 Lunar Module with no leakage measured. They are unbreakable. Just some bureaucrats who greedily wants to have money for nothing. (Russians maybe crashed some too)

  • Zed_WEASEL

    The Red Dragon flights to Mars is strictly a SpaceX program without funding from NASA. So no approval is needed from NASA, however a flight license is required from the FAA. If the hardware is ready, then we will have fireworks during the Spring of 2018.

  • duheagle

    The Russians strewed highly radioactive bits of an actual reactor, not an RTG, all over Northern Canada, starting at Great Slave Lake, in 1978. That one, unfortunately for the Canadians, didn’t prove unbreakable. Use the search term “Cosmos 954” in your favorite search engine.

  • duheagle

    NASA actually approved the mission when it entered into an unfunded Space Act Agreement with SpaceX covering Red Dragon back in late 2014. That box has long since been checked.

  • mlc449

    SpaceX isn’t going to fly a single ounce to Mars without being selected as an official NASA project, as well you know.

  • duheagle

    It is an official NASA project. There’s a Space Act Agreement with ink on it nearly two years old. It’s an unfunded Space Act Agreement. The same sort Blue Origin has with NASA for its bi-conic orbital capsule under the Commercial Crew program. But I expect Red Dragon to move along quite a bit faster than BO’s capsule project seems to be.