The competition to win future U.S. military satellite launch contracts heated up again this week when embattled United Launch Alliance expanded a partnership with Orbital ATK to provide solid rocket boosters for ULA's Atlas V and future Vulcan launchers.
The deal calls for Orbital ATK, formed earlier this year with the merger of Orbital Sciences Corp. and Alliant Techsystems, to design and qualify two new rocket motors based on similar designs. The partners said the parallel designs would help reduce the cost of launching U.S. satellites as ULA competes with Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) for Air Force contracts under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program.
Development of the new solid rocket boosters will begin immediately, the partners said. They would be used on Atlas V launches beginning in late 2018, ULA said, and on its new Vulcan rocket scheduled for its maiden flight in mid-2019.