Spaceflight Insider

Orbital ATK, ULA mark 500th composite structure’s production

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This past week, Orbital ATK celebrated the completion of the 500th ULA composite structure at its Large Structures Center of Excellence in Iuka, Mississippi. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

IUKA, Miss. — When you think of Mississippi aerospace, NASA’s Stennis Space Center (SSC) probably first comes to mind. However, another aerospace “outpost” is located in the rural northeast corner of the state, near Iuka – Orbital ATK’s Large Structures Center of Excellence (LSCOE).

What began as a proposed nuclear power plant in the 1970s, and later briefly used by NASA, was eventually transferred to the State/County and leased by ATK (later Orbital ATK by merger) to produce portions of United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V, Delta II, and Delta IV launch vehicles.

Timeline of Orbital ATK's Iuka, Miss., facility. Image Credit: Orbital ATK

Timeline of Orbital ATK’s Iuka, Miss., facility. Image Credit: Orbital ATK

This past week, SpaceFlight Insider had the opportunity to tour the LSCOE and attend a celebration of the completion of the 500th ULA structure – a “boat tail” for the Atlas V rocket scheduled to launch the National Reconnaissance Office’s (NRO) L-42 mission in early 2017.

“This production milestone is a remarkable accomplishment and a very special occasion for all of us,” said Steve Earl, vice president and general manager of Orbital ATK’s aerospace structures division. “This effort speaks to the commitment, dedication and diligence of each and every one of our employees at the Iuka facility. They should all be proud of their contributions to ULA, the U.S. Air Force, and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.”

Steve-Earl (left) and NROL-42 Atlas V Boat Tail (right).

Left: Steve Earl, Orbital ATK’s vice president and general manager of the aerospace structures division, speaks. Right: The 500th structure – the NROL-42 Atlas V boat tail. Photo Credit: Scott Johnson / SpaceFlight Insider

In addition to Atlas V boat tails, the LSCOE currently produces Atlas V interstage adapters and heat shields, along with Delta IV payload fairings, payload attach fittings and diaphragms, interstages, nose cones, center bodies, and thermal shields (see the Orbital ATK diagram below).

These structures can be as large as 16 feet (5 meters) in diameter and 62 feet (19 meters) in length, and take between four and six months to complete.

Once completed, the structures are shipped to various ULA locations throughout the country.

All Atlas V structures leave the LSCOE by truck. However, Delta IV components are too large to be shipped over the road and are barged along the Tennessee River to ULA’s Decatur, Alabama, assembly facility.

United Launch Alliance Atlas V and Delta IV components manufactured at Orbital ATK's Iuka, Miss., facility. Diagram Credit: Orbital ATK

United Launch Alliance Atlas V and Delta IV components manufactured at Orbital ATK’s Iuka, Miss., facility. Diagram Credit: Orbital ATK

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Scott earned both a Bachelor's Degree in public administration, and a law degree, from Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. He currently practices law in the Birmingham suburb of Homewood. Scott first remembers visiting Marshall Space Flight Center in 1978 to get an up-close look at the first orbiter, Enterprise, which had been transported to Huntsville for dynamic testing. More recently, in 2006, he participated in an effort at the United States Space and Rocket Center (USSRC) to restore the long-neglected Skylab 1-G Trainer. This led to a volunteer position, with the USSRC curator, where he worked for several years maintaining exhibits and archival material, including flown space hardware. Scott attended the STS - 110, 116 and 135 shuttle launches, along with Ares I-X, Atlas V MSL and Delta IV NROL-15 launches. More recently, he covered the Atlas V SBIRS GEO-2 and MAVEN launches, along with the Antares ORB-1, SpaceX CRS-3, and Orion EFT-1 launches.

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