Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance (ULA) celebrated a milestone this past week as they successfully launched their 100th mission. The Cape Canaveral-based mission used the Atlas V rocket to drop off Mexico’s next-generation Morelos-3 satellite into orbit. The Atlas V launch vehicle included an Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 upper stage engine, two AJ-60A solid rocket boosters, six helium pressurization tanks, and a dozen Centaur upper stage thrusters which are used to correct flight path.
This new satellite will be used in conjunction with existing satellites to create the MEXSAT constellation, which aims to provide advanced communications for rural Mexican communities and ramp up Mexican national security. The US Air Force was scheduled to use this launch for their own satellite, but instead they allowed Mexico to take their launch slot. ULA President and CEO Tony Bruno was on hand for the historic event, and he noted that this particular mission was crucial for the future of ULA, as it showcased ULA’s ability to transition from a government launch provider to a commercial launch service with ease. Moving forward, ULA will aim to provide more commercial launches while at the same time maintaining its competitive launch program.
ULA’s intention to diversify its launch capabilities comes in the wake of increasing pressure from rival company SpaceX. ULA has slowly fallen out of favor with Congress in recent years, as the engines used in their rockets are currently sourced from Russia. As a result, SpaceX has won many government contracts because they utilize American-made rocket engines. ULA will likely continue to lose government contracts until they switch to new American-made engines in 2018. Although the Pentagon is trying their best to persuade Congress to allow ULA to compete for government contracts, SpaceX will still likely win most of the new contracts.
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