ULA Crowdsourcing the Name of its Next Rocket

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United Launch Alliance is tapping the wisdom of the crowd to choose a name for the rocket it is developing to replace the Atlas 5 and the Delta 4 launch vehicles around the end of the decade.

ULA employees from across the United States have submitted nearly 300 names. Those names will be winnowed down to a list of finalists for an online vote ULA will open to the public later this month.

Tory Bruno, ULA’s president and chief executive, told SpaceNews in a March 2 interview here that he intends to unveil the winning name — along with more details about the rocket the  Denver company currently calls the Next Generation Launch System — at the 31st Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the week of April 13.

ULA's Tory Bruno talking with NASA space tweeps at Orion EFT-1 social in September Credit: Matt Parker via NASA social flickr pool
ULA’s Tory Bruno talking with NASA space tweeps at Orion EFT-1 social in September Credit: Matt Parker via NASA social flickr pool

ULA is working with Blue Origin, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ secretive space company, on the methane-fueled BE-4 engine to replace the reliable-but-Russian RD-180 engines that have successfully powered 52 Atlas 5 launches for the U.S. government and a small handful of commercial customers since 2002. Congress, however, has enacted a ban on using RD-180 engines for national security missions that is set to take effect in 2019 barring legislative relief.

ULA also plans to phase out all but the heavy-lift version of its Delta 4 rocket, with the last of the single-stick Delta 4s launching in 2018 or 2019. “Great rocket,” Bruno said. “But it’s more expensive than the equivalent Atlas rocket.”

Although ULA hasn’t opened online voting for the NGLS rocket’s new name, suggestions are surfacing on Twitter.