Tag Archives: Delta 4

ULA’s Delta 4 rocket launches Air Force communications satellite

Capitalsm in space: ULA yesterday used its Delta 4 rocket to successfully place in orbit an Air Force communications satellite.

This is one of the last launches of the the Delta 4 member in the Delta rocket family.

The mission marked the next-to-last flight of the Delta 4 rocket variant with a single first stage core — known as the Delta 4-Medium — as ULA begins retiring segments of its launcher family in preparation for the debut of the new Vulcan booster, which the company says will be less expensive than the existing Atlas and Delta fleet.

Gary Wentz, ULA’s vice president of government and commercial programs, said the company’s decision in 2014 to retire the Delta 4-Medium was intended to reduce the company’s costs. “We started looking at the products that we were providing, and found that maintaining these two families of launch vehicles, both the Delta and the Atlas, through this period decreased our flight rate, and therefore increased our costs,” Wentz said. “That really drove it, based on the competitive industry we’re in, trying to maximize our competitiveness.”

The Delta 4-Medium family provides the same range of lift capability as the less expensive Atlas 5 rocket. The Delta 4-Heavy, which will remain operational through at least the early-to-mid-2020s, uses three Delta 4 first stage cores bolted together to haul heavier payloads to orbit than any of the Atlas 5 configurations.

The leaders in the 2019 launch race:

3 SpaceX
3 China
2 Europe (Arianespace)
2 Russia
2 ULA

In the national rankings, the U.S. has now widened its lead on China to 5 to 3.

Note that two different American companies are matching the launch numbers of three other whole countries. This I think illustrates well the power of freedom and competition. Rather than have a single nationalized rocket system (as was attempted in the 2000s when Boeing and Lockheed Martin created ULA, then the only American rocket company), the U.S. has transitioned back to its roots, allowing freedom to produce multiple companies competing for both private and government business. This has reduced costs, encouraged innovation, and ended up producing more jobs and wealth.

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Lockheed Martin’s space profits to decline in 2019 because of ULA

Capitalism in space: Lockheed Martin is projecting a decline in its space profits in 2019 because of a decline in income coming from its ULA partnership with Boeing.

In the previous quarterly earnings call in October, Bruce Tanner, Lockheed Martin’s chief financial officer, warned those earnings could be down as much as $150 million in 2019 compared to 2018. Tanner said then that both the number of [ULA] launches and the mix of vehicles contributed to that decline.

“We have more, for instance, Delta 4 launches in 2018 than we expect to have in 2019,” he said in the prior call. “Those are obviously the most profitable launch vehicles in all of ULA’s portfolio.”

In the latest earnings call, Tanner said the decline would not be as large as previously projected, estimating it to be closer $100 million. Part of the change has to do with improved performance at ULA, he said, but a bigger factor was a delay of a Delta 4 Heavy launch from late 2018 to earlier this month, shifting the profit realized from it to 2019. [emphasis mine]

The highlighted language illustrates why they are losing sales. The Delta family of rockets might bring ULA the most income, but that is because it is also its most expensive rocket to build and launch, and is also the one for which it charges the most.

Back in 2016 ULA announced that it planned to retire Delta, but it has not yet done so, probably because the company earns so much with each launch. Whether they eventually retire it or not doesn’t really matter, however, because its high cost will have it with time go the way of the horse regardless. Other cheaper rockets, such as the Falcon Heavy, are getting the business instead.

In fact, this competitive process probably explains entirely the drop in earnings expected in 2019.

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India and ULA complete first launches in 2018

The competition heats up: In what looks like the beginning of what might be the most active launch year in almost three decades, India and ULA today each successfully completed their first launches of 2018.

ULA’s Delta 4 rocket launched a U.S. reconnaissance satellite, while India’s PSLV rocket placed in orbit 31 satellites, 30 of which were smallsats. For India, this was their first launch since an August PSLV launch failed when the rocket fairing did not release.

Update: I just discovered that China launched its second rocket yesterday, placing it in a tie with U.S. for most launches and ahead of everyone else.

2 China
1 SpaceX
1 ULA
1 India

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Successful Delta 4 launch of Air Force satellite

The competition heats up: ULA’s Delta 4 tonight successfully launched an Air Force communications satellite.

ULA definitely can be proud of it almost perfect launch record. The Delta 4 though is very expensive, which is why they are slowly phasing it out in favor of the Atlas 5, which in turn will eventually be replaced by Vulcan.

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ULA to trim working launchpads from 5 to 2

The competition heats up: In order to lower its fixed costs, ULA plans to reduce the number of launchpads it maintains from 5 to 2, one at Kennedy and Vandenberg respectively.

Right now they need to maintain three separate launchpads to operate the Delta 2, Delta 4, and Delta Heavy, which is the main reason the Delta family of rockets is so expensive. This is also the reason that the Delta 2 and Delta Heavy only launch from Vandenberg, as ULA has retired their launchpads at Kennedy.

It appears that ULA’s plan is to design their next generation rocket much like SpaceX’s Falcon 9, with as simple as system of launch facilities as possible.

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Replacing the Russian-made rocket engines used by the Atlas 5 and Antares rockets would take about four years, according to a industry analysis.

Replacing the Russian-made rocket engines used by the Atlas 5 and Antares rockets would take about four years, according to Aerojet Rocketdyne.

The company presently refurbishes the Russian engines used by Antares, and is building a host of other engines for other rockets.

In related news, ULA has begun considering shifting some of its military launches from the Atlas 5 to the Delta family of rockets. The company has also released previously undisclosed pricing information for its bulk buy military launches.

Michael Gass, chief executive of Denver-based ULA, said the company’s average per-launch price to the U.S. government is $225 million, a figure that includes the block buy contract as well as pre-existing launch backlog. That figure represents the combined value of the contracts divided by the number of missions.

That $225 million figure, though far less than previously believed, is a little more than twice what SpaceX says it would charge for a comparable launch.

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Engine problems on a Delta 4 rocket launch two weeks ago could delay the launch of the Atlas 5 rocket scheduled to lift the X-37B on its next mission.

Engine problems on a Delta 4 rocket launch two weeks ago could delay the launch of the Atlas 5 rocket scheduled to lift the X-37B on its next mission.

Don’t ask me why the military would delay an Atlas 5 launch because of problems on a Delta 4. It seems to be left over caution from the 1960s, when no rocket was reliable and they were trying to figure out how to do it. Now, it simply seems silly.

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ATK and ULA yesterday successfully tested the solid rocket strap-on motor that is used by their Delta 4 rocket.

The competition heats up: ATK and ULA yesterday successfully tested the solid rocket strap-on motor that is used by their Delta 4 rocket. With video.

They are using a new manufacturer for the motor’s nozzle, and needed to test this under cold conditions.

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