Spaceflight Insider

ULA to offer ‘RapidLaunch’ service

United Launch Alliance Atlas V 421 rocket with NROL 61 payload at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 41 photo credit Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider rapidlaunch

ULA announced a new “RapidLaunch” service to allow for an order-to-launch campaign of as little as three months. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced on Sept. 13, 2016, a new service that allows a customer to place a launch order and fly in as little as three months. According to a news release, the service, called RapidLaunch, will be the fastest schedule from initial order to launch in the industry.

“The priorities of all our customers include ensuring their spacecraft launches on schedule, securing the soonest possible manifest date and completing the mission with 100 percent success,” said Tory Bruno, ULA’s CEO and president.

Bruno said the company has been working on this option for more than a year. Additionally, with RapidLaunch, ULA can assign a company’s spacecraft as a backup to an earlier mission in case the mission is rescheduled.

DigitalGlobe’s WorldView-4 satellite is an example how such a swap would work. The Mars InSight mission was postponed to 2018. As such, ULA had an extra rocket that was the exact configuration the WorldView-4 satellite needed. Liftoff for that spacecraft is slated for Sept. 16.

To accommodate the potential of RapidLaunch, ULA has added additional hardware to the production line in order to offer the additional rockets while not impacting existing customers.

“We have availability on our Atlas V manifest in 2017,” said Kent Lietzau, ULA’s vice president of business development. “This service is fast and comprehensive. Our experience base launching all major platforms means confidence for your mission.”

Additionally, the company has reorganized the production line for its rockets to push off any customization for particular missions until the last three months in the lead-up to launch.

“ULA is transforming the future of space launch, making it more affordable and accessible for our customers,” Bruno said. “New, innovative services like RapidLaunch are just one way that we are making that future vision a reality.”

This announcement comes a couple of weeks after SpaceX’s Sept. 1 pad explosion, which destroyed both the Falcon 9 rocket and the Amos-6 satellite. While the company is currently looking to return to flight as early as November, it still has a very busy and full launch manifest.

Additionally, with Russia’s Proton rocket grounded until at least mid-November, other companies, including ULA and Europe’s Arianespace, have made efforts to accommodate additional orbital launches. According to Space News, Arianespace has stated it may be able to supply an additional Ariane 5 rocket into its 2017 manifest if the demand is there.



Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.

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