ULA’s Swiss Supplier To Build Rocket Parts in Alabama

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PARIS — Swiss rocket-component builder Ruag is opening a production line at customer United Launch Alliance’s Alabama facility to replace capacity in Switzerland used to build parts for ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket and to prepare for ULA’s new Vulcan vehicle, ULA and Ruag announced.

Zurich-based Ruag said the move is a result of a strategic partnership with Centennial, Colorado-based ULA that will satisfy a long-standing Ruag ambition to tap into the U.S. market for government launches.

Final assembly of an Ariane 5 payload fairing at Ruag Space in Emmen, Switzerland. Credit: Ruag Space
Final assembly of an Ariane 5 payload fairing at Ruag Space in Emmen, Switzerland. Credit: Ruag Space

“We have been looking to expand our market presence in the U.S. for years,” Ruag said in an Aug. 4 statement in response to SpaceNews queries. “However, it has always been a chicken-and-egg problem. To establish a facility in the U.S., you need enough work, which is not so easy to get if you have no footprint in the U.S. The strategic partnership includes not only our current work for Atlas, but also contributions to the Vulcan. It is a big step for us.”

Ruag has been working with ULA for a decade. In a role similar to what it does as part of Europe’s Ariane rocket program, the company provides the Atlas 5 rocket’s 5.4-meter payload fairing and an inter-stage adapter at facilities located in Zurich and Emmen, Switzerland.

With an equivalent work share, focused on carbon-fiber structures, planned for ULA’s future Vulcan, Ruag now has enough guaranteed business to make the move. The company said it will be hiring 100 new employees in Decatur, Alabama, by 2019 in addition to a small contingent of current Ruag specialists who will make the move.

Ruag declined to disclose the expected capital investment it will make in the Decatur facility, but said its current work on the Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket, and the Italian-led Vega light-class vehicle, will remain at the existing Swiss facilities.

ULA has announced the start of work on Vulcan, which, pending final funding decisions, is scheduled to make a first flight in 2019. Unlike ULA’s current Delta and Atlas rockets, Vulcan is part of a design-to-cost initiative that ULA hopes will reduce costs and position the company for commercial as well as U.S. government business.

“ULA has also made a business decision to switch from a metallic four-meter fairing to a newer-technology composite 4.4-meter fairing in order to capture more commercial market business,” Ruag said. “The Vulcan composite 4.4-meter fairing, designed by Ruag, will be built in Decatur to support a first flight in 2019.”

Europe’s future Ariane 6 rocket, scheduled to enter service in 2020, is expected to use a Ruag-built upper compartment including the payload fairing and inter-stage adapter. The company is building a new facility in Emmen for the Ariane 6 work to permit more-efficient production.