Frequently Asked Questions - EELV Program


The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program originated in the mid-1990s in response to a series of studies, congressional actions and presidential actions recognizing the need to improve U.S. space launch capabilities. Reliably launching sensitive National Security Space (NSS) satellites into their required orbits was – and still is – recognized as being of paramount importance.

The EELV program provides the Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) with the capability and launch vehicles necessary to launch the U.S. government’s national security and defense satellites into their proper orbits.  

NSS satellites often cost well in excess of one billion dollars, take many years to build and have lifecycles that routinely exceed a decade from the time of launch.

NSS satellites provide critical support for the warfighter and our national security to include weather, mapping, military communications, intelligence and surveillance. Any failure or schedule delay can impair our nation’s ability to conduct or defend against military operations.

As a result, the government requires that NSS launch missions be conducted by certified launch providers using systems that have undergone rigorous and repeated testing and mission assurance procedures with extensive government oversight. Our vehicles are designed to meet U.S. government requirements and require U.S. government oversight throughout the design and development phase.

FAQs



What is the so-called block buy?

The Air Force’s 5-year block buy contract was the result of a multi-year, best-practice acquisition process that enabled the government to negotiate a block of launches in advance, saving the taxpayers money, ensuring significant operations efficiency, and creating the needed stability and predictability in the supplier and industrial base, while meeting national security space requirements. ULA provided pricing based on a ULA investment in a 50-core block buy, for which the DOD committed to a firm commitment of the 36 cores. The block buy contract also set aside missions for new entrants to demonstrate their capability once they achieve certification for EELV-class launches.

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Hasn’t the EELV program incurred massive cost overruns since 2006?

No, actually the launch capability contracts from 2006 through 2013 have a cumulative underrun of $80 million. The program’s overall annual budgets have increased because the number of launches has been increased.  In addition, the total lifecycle cost increased because the Period of Performance of the program was extended 10 years from 2020 to 2030. These increases are reflected in the EELV budget and are often incorrectly cited as overruns by the EELV program’s detractors.

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Didn’t the Government Accountability Office (GAO) find that total program costs have risen 250 percent over original baselines?

The GAO conducted their overall cost assumption based on an EELV baseline from 1998, eight years before ULA was even created. Actually, the creation of ULA saved costs, and we exceeded the savings goals given to us by the government. Since ULA’s creation, overall cost increases have been directly proportional to the increased number of launches and extension of the Period of Performance over the original baseline. More launches over a longer period time would increase program cost.

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Does ULA support competition in the EELV program?

Competition is good acquisition tool to help lower costs if the market size and mission requirements can justify it. ULA was formed because the shrinking market, delayed missions, required the consolidation to one company that could be responsive to the critical missions at lower cost.

If our customer believe competition is appropriate, ULA will support and believes it must be on a fair and level playing field with the same technical, performance, oversight and transparency requirements, including FAR 15 and CAS compliance.

Should new entrants become certified, ULA looks forward to competition and is confident in its ability to compete when it comes to the best vehicle, safety, reliability, schedule and cost.

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Didn’t the GAO say full and open competition could decrease launch prices and increase efficiencies?

The important word is “could.” ULA was originally created in 2006 because of instability, inefficiencies, and lack of predictability in the marketplace for launches. By consolidating companies and rocket families, ULA was able to reduce infrastructure, consolidate facilities, efficiently allocate its workforce to support two launch vehicle families, and realize efficiencies in operations. The reintroduction of competitors to the current marketplace, coupled with the requirement to maintain multiple launch systems to ensure “assured access to space,” may be more costly than simply maintaining a single launch provider.  

The process of launching satellites worth billions of dollars into orbit will always be technologically and logistically complex, and therefore expensive. That’s precisely why deep experience is so important in the certification process that customers apply to all of their contractors. The customer will need to assess their buying needs (quantity of launches) and the overall market size, and conclude if repeating the competitive strategy of the past will be effective now.

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