Pentagon Frets About ULA’s Vulcan Delays

ULA stacks Vulcan Centaur ahead of its first launch. Image: ULA

Any billionaire-funded space companies or deep-pocketed private equity funds kicking the tires on United Launch Alliance now have a new concern: The rocket maker’s biggest customer isn’t pleased with its pace.

Nastygram: The Washington Post reported that the Pentagon’s space procurement chief, Frank Calvelli, sent a critical letter to executives at Boeing and Lockheed Martin, the co-owners of ULA who have reportedly put the launch giant up for sale.

“I am growing concerned with ULA’s ability to scale manufacturing of its Vulcan rocket and scale its launch cadence to meet our needs…Currently there is military satellite capability sitting on the ground due to Vulcan delays,” Calvelli wrote. “As the owners of ULA, and given the manufacturing prowess of Boeing and Lockheed Martin corporations, I recommend that you work together over the next 90 days to complete an independent review of ULA’s ability to scale its launch cadence.”

A spokesperson for Calvelli didn’t dispute the Post’s reporting, but noted that “our communications with these organizations are private.”

ULA needs to launch 25 missions by the end of 2027 to meet its contract requirements; the company says it has nearly thirty rockets in production.

Fallout: After reaching orbit for the first time in January, ULA has yet to announce a more specific date for the next flight of the Vulcan beyond Q4 of this year. The vehicle is years behind schedule, thanks in large part to Blue Origin’s delays in building the BE-4 rocket engine that will power the launch vehicle. 

“With our ULA joint venture partner Boeing, we are committed to providing reliable and swift launch capabilities to meet our customers’ mission demands,” a Lockheed Martin spokesperson told Payload. “We are reviewing Mr. Calvelli’s request and will work together to address it with urgency.” 

Blue is reportedly the likeliest acquirer of ULA, which has been on the auction block for the last year. The company’s biggest asset is Vulcan and, more specifically, 60% of the current National Security Space Launch contract, which represents billions of dollars in revenue. ULA is also fielding Vulcan in its competition with SpaceX and Blue Origin for a share of the next NSSL contract, which is expected to be awarded this month.

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