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ULA Chalks Up Another Successful Atlas V Launch

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
January 24, 2014
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Atlas V launches a TDRS spacecraft into orbit. (Credit: ULA)

Atlas V launches a TDRS spacecraft into orbit. (Credit: ULA)

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., Jan. 23, 2014 (ULA PR) – A United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket successfully launched NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS-L) payload at 9:33 p.m. EST today from Space Launch Complex-41. This was the first of 15 ULA launches scheduled for 2014 and the 78th ULA launch for ULA in just over seven years.

“ULA and our mission partners are honored to work with the outstanding NASA team and we are proud of the vitally important data relay capabilities that were safely delivered today,” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “With 43 successful missions spanning a decade of operational service and launched with a one-launch-at-a-time focus on mission success, the Atlas V continues to provide reliable, cost-effective launch services for our nation’s most complex and valued payloads.”

This mission was launched aboard an Atlas V 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 a single Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10A-4 engine.

NASA established the TDRS project in 1973, with the first launch in 1983, to provide around-the-clock and around-the-Earth communications for the network that routes voice calls, telemetry streams and television signals from the International Space Station, as well as telemetry and science data from the Hubble Space Telescope and other orbiting spacecraft.

“Atlas and TDRS have supported each other for almost 20 years, and all three of the second generation satellites, now known as TDRS 8, 9, and 10, launched on Atlas vehicles in 2000 and 2002,” said Sponnick. “While we were integrating those spacecraft onto Atlas in the late 1990s, we also developed a new TDRS-compatible transmitter so that Atlas could use the TDRS constellation to receive and distribute the launch vehicle telemetry relay during flight. We are now also using TDRS services for our Delta II and Delta IV programs.”

ULA’s next launch is the Delta IV GPS IIF-5 mission for the Air Force planned for Feb. 20, 2014, from Space Launch Complex-37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

ULA program management, engineering, test, and mission support functions are headquartered in Denver, Colo. Manufacturing, assembly and integration operations are located at Decatur, Ala., and Harlingen, Texas. Launch operations are located at Cape Canaveral AFS, Fla., and Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

For more information on ULA, visit the ULA website at, or call the ULA Launch Hotline at 1-877-ULA-4321 (852-4321). Join the conversation at and

10 responses to “ULA Chalks Up Another Successful Atlas V Launch”

  1. windbourne says:

    Nice, but long past time for ULA to consider how to make systems that compete against SpaceX.

  2. Mader Levap says:

    Currently popular theme is COST. This is why ULA have to do something, unless they think gov will still pay them through the nose regardless of successes of NewSpace.

  3. windbourne says:

    LEO space is now about reliability and costs.
    SpaceX is close to showing that they are reliable in production. BUT, they have already shown that they are the low cost AND lowest charge.

    Atlas is a good system, HOWEVER, it can not even compete against expensive systems such as Ariane or low costs systems like the Russians. That is why it lost so much private space launches. But ULA has a direct 1.5B subsidy each year, and still has a price that is higher than Ariane or Russian system.

    BUT ULA has more problems coming.
    Blue Origin is coming along and they will very likely have a launch system in 3 more years. Between SpaceX, Blue Origin, and possibly OSC, ULA will lose their subsidy and will be forced to directly compete for DOD missions. That will be the end of them, unless they make big changes and invest NOW.

    Keep in mind that ULA has multiple issues with costs. The fact that they do not own the engines makes them expensive. In fact, ULA is loaded with sub-contractors. They are not as bad as OSC, but pretty bad. They need to bring it all back in-house to control their costs.
    But, ULA has a bigger issue. They know it and have SLOWLY been dealing with it: management. They brought loads of ppl from Boeing and L-Marts that worked on DOD projects. These ppl are used to fleecing our nation. So, they built large empires. A begging manager at ULA makes 150-200K. A middle manager makes more than 250K. And ULA is LOADED with them. It is insane how many managers there are. For the last 2 years, they have been laying off, and it still looks more like a monopoly-based company, then one that has true competition.

  4. windbourne says:

    Very reliable. So is Delta. BUT, SpaceX is proving themselves to be reliable as well. And I suspect that Blue Origin will as well, once they get their system and start production.

  5. anon says:

    1st off Thanks Doug – Love your site and what you are doing. . 😉

    you look at Lockheeds strategic moves for the future you will clearly
    see the planning is well underway to replace the ancient and expensive
    centaur/RL10 upper stage combination with a far more cost effective
    modern upper stage and engine.

    • Jeff Smith says:

      ULA has stacks of cost cutting proposals in its files that are now dusted off. ULA isn’t dumb, and neither are its engineers, but their management has had the incentive of a monopoly: zero. Just watch all the changes that happen over the next few years.

      They may never cost as low as a SpaceX, but I bet they’ll get the price down to 1.5-2X the cost per launch. They are a business, and they’ll find a way to survive, there are enough smart people at those places to figure that out.

    • Michael Vaicaitis says:

      I was thinking of the xcor engine, but it’s ULA’s first stages that are, quite literally, their biggest problem.

  6. Michael Vaicaitis says:

    It is worth recognising the value of reliability – but even reliability MUST be placed within a context of cost. Both Soyuz and now SpaceX have shown that reliability and high cost are not the inevitable and unavoidable equation that ULA’s marketeers would have us believe – certainly not at the level that ULA have risen to command. No, the reliability record is no defence. ULA and ArianeSpace are too expensive and it is the rest of humanity that is paying for their greed and indulgence.

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