ULA says it could accommodate additional Atlas 5 launch next year

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WASHINGTON – United Launch Alliance, which is trying to bolster its appeal to potential launch customers, said Sept. 13 it has at least one spot open on its 2017 manifest for an Atlas 5 launch.

The announcement was part of ULA’s unveiling of a new sales program known as RapidLaunch, which would allow satellite providers to schedule a launch as a primary payload aboard an Atlas 5 rocket in as little three months.

Traditionally, scheduling an Atlas 5 for medium-class missions has taken two to three years, but ULA has been building a rocket at its plant in Decatur, Alabama without a customer in hand with the hopes of attracting new business. The final customization of the rocket would take place in those final three months.

“To accommodate our RapidLaunch customers, we have added additional hardware to the production line, so that we can offer additional vehicles without an impact to our existing customers,” Kent Lietzau, ULA’s vice president of business development, said in a Sept. 13 press release. “We have also moved customization for any particular launch to the last three months of production.”

Tory Bruno, the chief executive officer of United Launch Alliance, first hinted at the RapidLaunch service in April 2015.

Last week, Europe’s Arianespace launch-service provider said it might be able to add a supplemental heavy-lift Ariane 5 vehicle to its 2017 manifest if market conditions demand it.

Both companies’ announcements come after two other commercial providers faced setbacks. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket suffered a failure during a static fire test Sept. 1 and Russia’s Proton rocket is expected to be grounded until about mid-November following a June anomaly.