Frequently Asked Questions - Launch Costs


ULA is committed to providing 100 percent mission success at an exceptional value. We know every dollar counts and there can be no cutting corners when it comes to delivering some of America’s most sensitive national security payloads that keep our troops safe.

FAQs

How much does the Air Force’s recent block buy cost?

The block buy contract between the Air Force and ULA consists of purchasing 36 rocket cores over a five-year period, as well as launching additional missions ordered under other contracts, costing $11 billion. According to the Department of Defense, the five-year block buy for the EELV program will save the U.S. government $4.4 billion during the next five years compared to the previous approach of buying rockets one at a time.

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What does a single rocket launch cost?

The average price of a mission, accounting for all current firm contracts for Atlas and Delta launch services, is $225 million, not $460 million as has been claimed. This includes all missions, Department of Defense (DoD), NASA, commercial, Atlas V 401 through Delta IV Heavy.

The incremental price of a lower-end mission, that is, the cost to the U.S. government to increase the block buy one additional mission, is less than $100 million. The full price for a lower-end mission utilizing the Atlas V is $164 million. The most capable mission (three times the performance/thrust needed) costs around $350 million.

These prices are not from a marketing brochure, but committed, negotiated prices backed by full transparency to the U.S. government into all aspects of the cost. While these are the current prices, ULA is embarked on an aggressive cost reduction program with very challenging future targets.

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Some potential new entrants claim their launches would only cost $100 million under the block buy. Would it be cheaper for the U.S. government to buy a mission from new entrants?

As noted above, the block buy lowers the incremental lower end Atlas V launch costs to less than $100 million, making it potentially more expensive for the US government to buy a mission from a new entrant than to buy one more from ULA.

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What other factors are considered beyond cost?

The U.S. government is seeking the best launch capability at the lowest cost. There is a reason customers rely on ULA for mission assurance – you cannot risk a multi-billion dollar satellite that may have taken 10 years to build. It’s not just the cost of a replacement satellite. It is the essential capability that our troops and national security depend on. It would be risky to bet on a potential new entrant who is not yet certified, has a history of launch delays, and an overcommitted manifest that they may not be able to deliver on.

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Is it true that some of ULA’s launches are over budget?

No. ULA has met all contracts on schedule and on – or under – budget.  We have never experienced a cost overrun on any contract. Inside the block buy, ULA is contractually committed to year-over-year cost reductions.

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Does ULA receive a subsidy?


No. The EELV Launch Capabilities (ELC) contract pays for very well-defined national security space requirements that allow the Air Force to launch exactly when and where it needs to launch. Both ULA and the Air Force recognize a need to address the current capability contract. However, changing that structure is difficult and takes years to transition. In launches in which ULA’s commercial or civil customers benefit from these capabilities, ULA credits the Air Force with a repayment of a portion of these costs.

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Is ULA taking any steps to reduce its costs?

We are always working with our customers to reduce costs while still achieving 100 percent mission success. The recent block buy is a prime example of a best-practice acquisition strategy that has resulted in a $4.4 billion savings over the next five years.

Since ULA was formed in 2006, we have taken significant steps to reduce costs, including reducing personnel by 1,100 and production facilities by 40 percent. Relentless efforts to reduce span and cycle times at our launch sites and in our factories continue to achieve additional efficiencies and savings. Governed by our commitment to Perfect Product Delivery, our pursuit of efficiencies extends beyond our launch vehicle production, integration and launch services to include all ULA financial and business systems. ULA is continuously looking for ways to reduce cost while still achieving 100 percent mission success. As an example, ULA is investing in a dual-launch system that would launch two spacecraft on a single launch vehicle, cutting costs by 25-40 percent compared to conducting two separate missions.

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