Air Force Officials Announce Milestone Atlas V Launch

WASHINGTON, June 20, 2012 — As part of the Defense Department’s ongo­ing efforts to main­tain assured, afford­able access to space through 2030, the Atlas V rock­et suc­cess­ful­ly lift­ed off from Space Launch Com­plex-41 at Florida’s Cape Canaver­al today, Air Force offi­cials said.

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“This is an excit­ing time for the U.S. space launch com­mu­ni­ty, said Scott Cor­rell, the program’s exec­u­tive offi­cer. “From today’s suc­cess­ful launch of the 50th EELV to the recent suc­cess of Space X’s sup­port to NASA with their Fal­con 9 is clear the com­mer­cial space trans­porta­tion indus­try is mak­ing notable strides.” 

The EELV pro­gram replaced the exist­ing fleet of launch sys­tems with two fam­i­lies of launch vehi­cles — the Boe­ing Delta IV and Lock­heed Mar­tin Atlas V — built and oper­at­ed by the DOD’s prime con­trac­tor, Unit­ed Launch Alliance, Cor­rell said. 

An offi­cial from the Space and Mis­sile Sys­tems Cen­ter at Los Ange­les Air Force Base explained that the Atlas V is a crit­i­cal part of a spec­trum of gov­ern­ment missions. 

“Atlas V launch­es space-based infrared sys­tems, glob­al posi­tion­ing sys­tems, the defense mete­o­ro­log­i­cal satel­lite pro­gram, and the advanced extreme­ly-high fre­quen­cy sys­tem satel­lites,” said Air Force Col. Bob Hodgkiss, direc­tor of the launch sys­tems direc­torate. “I’m pleased to report that this year we have also already launched the wide­band glob­al sat-com IV aboard a Delta IV, and the Navy’s mobile user objec­tive sys­tem satel­lite 1 aboard Atlas V.” 

Because of con­sid­er­able pro­gram costs, which can run as high as sev­er­al bil­lion dol­lars per launch, qual­i­ty assur­ance and the devel­op­ment of a com­pet­i­tive mar­ket are para­mount, Air Force offi­cials said. 

“Since the Air Force must by law self-indem­ni­fy, we do a very rig­or­ous eval­u­a­tion of the phys­i­cal, elec­tri­cal and radio fre­quen­cy inter­faces between the rock­et, the satel­lite and the ground sys­tems,” Hodgkiss said of the process to deter­mine flight readi­ness. “My team is the government’s insur­ance pol­i­cy, so we need to be sure we have the high­est prob­a­bil­i­ty of suc­cess in one of the riski­est activ­i­ties the Air Force does.” 

On the busi­ness side of the pro­gram, Hodgkiss said, the program’s pri­ma­ry users, the Air Force, NASA, and the Nation­al Recon­nais­sance Office are devel­op­ing strate­gies to infuse com­pe­ti­tion into space launch as a cost reduc­tion measure. 

“We are bal­anc­ing the com­mit­ment we will make to ULA with the poten­tial to rein­tro­duce com­pe­ti­tion to the pro­gram when one or more com­mer­cial launch com­pa­nies have demon­strat­ed to the Air Force they are reli­able launch providers,” the colonel said. 

Cor­rell asserts that cer­ti­fy­ing new entrants will poten­tial­ly enable com­pe­ti­tion, there­by low­er­ing costs and cre­at­ing inno­va­tion in gov­ern­ment pay­loads such as com­mu­ni­ca­tions, nav­i­ga­tion, weath­er satel­lites, and sci­ence and nation­al secu­ri­ty missions. 

“The frame­work offers mul­ti­ple paths to on-ramp poten­tial new entrants and part of this strat­e­gy requires an entrant to demon­strate at least one launch of a vehi­cle con­fig­ured as an EELV class nation­al secu­ri­ty space launch,” he said. 

ULA’s next launch and the NRO’s next mis­sion, the Delta IV NROL-15, is sched­uled for June 28. 

“Our sol­diers, sailors, Marines, air­men, Coast Guards­men and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ty are depen­dent upon the warfight­ing capa­bil­i­ties we enable,” Cor­rell said. “Our pri­or­i­ty and focus remain mis­sion suc­cess first while con­trol­ling costs in this con­strained fidu­cia­ry environment.” 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

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