John Elbon at a September 2015 event at NASA's Kennedy Space Center to open the company's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility, a converted space shuttle orbiter processing facility. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

WASHINGTON — United Launch Alliance has named a longtime Boeing executive who has led work ranging from the International Space Station to commercial crew vehicles as its new chief operating officer.

ULA announced April 26 that John Elbon will take over as chief operating officer of the launch vehicle company. Elbon succeeds Dan Collins, another former Boeing executive who had been COO from the time the joint venture was established in 2006 until he retired earlier this year.

Elbon worked at Boeing for nearly 35 years, most recently as vice president and general manager for space exploration at Boeing Defense, Space and Security. In that role he was responsible for strategic direction on Boeing’s civil space efforts, including the International Space Station, Space Launch System and CST-100 Starliner commercial crew vehicle.

In previous roles at the company, he served as program manager for the early phases of its commercial crew effort and also as vice president and program manager of Boeing’s role as prime integrating contractor for the ISS.

Elbon has long been an advocate for the ISS and the research performed there. Earlier this year, he expressed concern about proposals, at the time not yet formally announced by NASA, to end federal funding of ISS operations in the mid-2020s as part of a transition to commercially operated stations in low Earth orbit.

“If we abruptly end that, without a smooth transition plan, all that investment will be for naught,” he said of a potential end of the ISS during a panel at a commercial space transportation conference in February. “We will cede the commercialization of low Earth orbit to somebody else who has a space station.”

In a statement, ULA President and CEO Tory Bruno welcomed Elbon, saying that his experience on various civil space programs will be essential during this “time of transformation” for the company. “John brings a tremendous amount of expertise in the area of civil space, and his leadership will continue to help ULA drive its world-leading reliability, schedule confidence, and mission optimization,” Bruno said.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...