hen the dust settled after the restructuring of the U.S. launch industry in 2006, it
fell to Ken Heinly
Delta 2 and Delta 4 rockets
to non-U.S. government customers on Boeing’s behalf.
�customers, of course, are now the province of United Launch Alliance (ULA), the Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture
Heinly’s job is complicated by the fact that there is little room on the Delta 4’s manifest for commercial launches, while the Delta 2 faces an uncertain future.
U.S. Air Force plans to stop using the venerable Delta 2 in the next year or so; NASA plans to follow suit when its relevant contractual obligations expire around the end of the decade.
For Boeing, commercial encompasses not just privately owned satellites like DigitalGlobe‘s WorldView-1 imaging spacecraft, but also some U.S. government payloads. Examples of the latter are some upcoming Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite (GOES) weather satellites, whose launches were arranged by their builder, Boeing’s satellite manufacturing arm.
Foreign government business also counts as commercial and is one of Heinly’s big target markets.
�launched the first of
four planned dual-use
Cosmo-Skymed radar satellites in
June aboard a Delta 2 in what was a coup for Boeing
, which beat out Europe’s Arianespace consortium for the contract. That drew a sharp rebuke
of Italian officials by Arianespace President Jean-Yves Le Gall, who said the Italian taxpayer-funded satellite should have been launched aboard a European rocket.
also manages the Boeing Commercial Space Co., which among other things handles mission integration for
Sea Launch Co.
, which is 40 percent owned by Boeing. Heinly spoke recently with Space News Editor Lon Rains.
What are your commercial sales goals for
On the Delta 2 side
�we would like to
launch two to three a year
�through 2011. And the reason I stop at 2011 is because that is probably when the current commitment from NASA is going to end relative to the Delta 2s. After that time
�if NASA doesn’t recommit or if we can’t get the Air Force to commit to being a major tenant on Delta 2, there probably won’t be enough commercial business to keep it going.
Right now on Delta 4 we have one opportunity in late 2009 that we could offer commercially. And we are in fact in discussions with a customer relative to that.
How about beyond 2009
I can’t go out too many years on the Delta 4. The Air Force and the National Reconnaissance Office balance their missions between the Delta rockets and the Atlas rockets. Although the number of launches per year may be somewhat constant, the number of Delta launches per year is
not necessarily constant. So in 2008 there are currently four Delta 4 missions manifested, including one commercial.
Who’s the commercial customer?
That would be the GOES-O. In 2009 there are only three missions currently manifested: two government and then GOES-P, so that’s why I feel we can add another slot commercially in 2009.
After that, I feel we could offer at least one a year. And we will have to see if what we offer can meet the needs of the commercial customers.
Who’s a good candidate for a commercial Delta 4 launch?
It’s a large launch vehicle and it is an expensive launch vehicle, even though launch prices have come up in the last year.
We talk about Delta 4 as a rocket, but there are actually five different configurations, starting from the Delta 4 Medium, which has a capability of approximately 3,500 kilograms to geostationary transfer orbit, all the way up to the Delta 4 Heavy, which can lift 13,000 kilograms to geostationary transfer orbit. So that’s quite a spread. The
so-called Delta Medium 4-2 is the configuration that we have been launching and will launch the GOES satellites on. It was also the configuration that we launched our first launch, which was the Eutelsat W5 mission. So it’s the middle range – 6,030 kilograms.
What is the price of a
I really can’t answer that. What I can say is that the prices that we can offer have improved with the
�formation of ULA and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle
Air Force contract. What I would anticipate is that over the next several years after we start to see the full cost benefits of ULA – because of the consolidation of the Atlas and Delta rockets into one factory and the consolidation of the engineering and program management into one location – we certainly anticipate some efficiencies, which will result in lower costs and therefore better prices that we can offer.
And you think those prices will be competitive on the commercial market?
We think they might be. We certainly have seen a rise in prices from the Russian-based rockets. I’m not sure where this is all going to settle out, but with
the combination of increased pricing from some of the competitors and efficiencies we can do on Delta, yes, we could become competitive.
Does a commercial Delta 4 customer have to worry about getting bumped from a launch slot by a U.S. government customer?
Historically we have been able to maintain the manifest lineup with integrated government and commercial launches. For
our WorldView-1 launch Sept. 18 out of Vandenberg [Air Force Base, Calif.], there was a lot of pressure for the next launch slot coming from NASA, the Air Force and then the commercial side and when those discussions all got done, all parties agreed to move forward with launching the WorldView mission first.
So based on what has happened historically, I would feel in the future the commercial customers will get their slot and even though it’s a smaller piece of the business, we will be able to keep them in the lineup. Now there can always be a national emergency that would change that, and we recognize that case.
Would a commercial customer who gets bumped in a national emergency get a price break?
Our standard launch service agreement has provisions
�relative to delays. Again it would depend on what the cause of the delay was. If it were a national emergency that required us or ULA to step in and launch a military satellite, that certainly would be considered an excusable delay and I don’t know how to eloquently finish that sentence, but there would be no price compensation.
Were you interested in offering
the Delta 2 for the recent Globalstar launch contract that went to
Yes. And the situation there was one where we were going through the transition from the Boeing environment for Delta to the Boeing-ULA environment for Delta. We were just not in a position to respond to that particular request for proposals because of its many unique requirements. Clearly Boeing has a long history and has the expertise to do these types of missions. We launched the Iridium constellation, multi-manifesting them on Delta 2 as we did for some of the satellites in the original Globalstar constellation.
What’s your view of the market potential for launching constellations?
I’d say we’re still evaluating it. We certainly approach it cautiously. I feel right now our primary market could well be dual-use satellites like Cosmo-Skymed that are being developed for various countries throughout the world. Other countries certainly have the desire to have imaging spacecraft and we
offer the capability of launching these dual-use satellites where some of the other launch providers may have
constraints that they must satisfy before they can launch them.
Can you cite an
The Russian government needs to approve the launch of any non-Russian military or dual-use satellite. I also know that some of these types of satellites are hard to export into Russia. So I’m thinking that particular market could be a place where we can offer an advantage.
What’s your response to Jean-Yves Le Gall’s criticism of Italy for awarding the Cosmo Skymed launch contract to a U.S.
Everybody’s entitled to their opinion. We’ve had a strong relationship with
�the various Italian companies and the Italian government for years. We were very thankful to get that contract but not surprised, because of the relationship we have in place. ThalesAlenia Space
supplies the Delta 2 upper-stage tanks and has been doing that since 2001. We also have a relationship with the Italians on the space station.
You have suggested that NASA’s decision to discontinue using the Delta 2 around the end of the decade is not final. Can you elaborate?
Our experience with NASA has been that mission success is the most important element to them – certainly with their one-of-a-kind planetary missions.
Delta 2 has had 74 consecutive successful launches. [Editor’s note: now 75 with the successful Sept. 18 launch of Worldview 1] It has over a 98 percent success rate. I realize that as the
�Air Force GPS launches get finished on Delta 2 that NASA has some concern about being the only major user of that rocket, and is in fact looking to transition
�to the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle
. Right now their reliability has been impeccable. So that in fact may be the best choice for them but I suspect there will still be some evaluations made.
Didn’t they just do that evaluation?
Yes. Yes, they did. But no decisions have been made. I guess what I would say is no new contracts have been let yet to the best of my knowledge.