How Innovative Product Engineering Practices Improves ULA Launch Vehicles

5 min readSep 4, 2020

In today’s day and age, adopting new technologies like IoT, Artificial Intelligence and Cloud are becoming essential for businesses for long-term growth and success. However, the adoption of modern technologies requires domain experience. To catch up with modern technologies, businesses and their engineering teams need to invest significant time and money.

Partnering with expert product engineering services providers is also a good idea if you want to accelerate the pace of innovation in your product development lifecycle and outpace the competition.

If we talk about the aerospace domain, the same concept applies. Successful private spacecraft launch agencies like SpaceX, United Launch Alliance (ULA), and more are applying innovative design and engineering practices in-house to sustain their core business strengths.

The article will shed light on the innovative engineering practices of ULA and its role in the company’s long-term success.

So, let’s get started:

Overview of United Launch Alliance — USA’s Leading Spacecraft Launch Agency

United Launch Alliance, also known as ULA, is America’s leading private spacecraft launch company This joint venture company owned by Boeing Defense and Lockheed Martin Space has so far delivered 140 consecutive spacecraft launches with 100% mission success rate. Founded in 2006, this spacecraft launch agency works for the United States government, including NASA, Department of Defense (DoD), and other firms. The company’s launch vehicles include historic Atlas and Delta category rockets along with the latest addition of Vulcan Centaur. ULA, the world’s most experienced spacecraft agency has a mission to “save lives, explore the universe, connect the world.”

For the past century, ULA is continually applying its experience, technology, and innovative engineering skills to ensure smarter and cost-effective launch services for the American government and its commercial customers.

ULA’s Current Launch Vehicle Portfolio

Atlas V

The Atlas category rockets have been the pride of American space exploration since 1957. Such rockets have been used to support national defense and science space programs. Atlas services rocket has undergone significant improvements to ensure reliable, cost-effective space transportation. Atlas V is the latest implementation in this series, which is powered by RD-180 and RD-10 engines. Thanks to continued innovation in design, Atlas V is also modified for human spaceflight.

Delta IV Heavy

The Delta category of rockers has been used for the past 60 years by America’s DoD, NASA, and commercial customers for space exploration. The latest addition is Delta IV Heavy in this category. It is tagged as the world’s proven heavy lifter for space missions. It is available in three variants. The rocket comprises three common booster cores, running over RS-68A engine, 5-diameter payload fairing (PLF), and the Delta cryogenic second stage which runs over the RL10 engine.

Vulcan Centaur

Leveraging the proven technologies, processes, and expertise of Atlas and Delta rockets of more than 120 years, this launch rocket is designed by ULA. It provides the highest value in space launch with low cost and optimal performance. In this spacecraft launch vehicle, ULA is applying the industry’s best practices for complex system design. Out of its two versions, one is still under development. If we talk about design, the Centaur is powered by two RL10 engines, which burn hydrogen and liquid oxygen and single-booster BE-4 engines. If needed, 6- solid rockers boosters can be added for additional power. This makes it highly valuable in terms of exploring new space capabilities.

Innovative Design and Engineering Practices at ULA

If ULA is the preferred choice of national security launches of the U.S. military and the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) spy-satellite agency as well as NASA, the primary reason is their continued innovation in product design. Through innovative product engineering practices, the company has been able to deliver high performance, yet affordable launch vehicles.

ULA has also recently won a multi-year competitive contract award for launching national security space missions for the US Space Force alongside SpaceX. This shows their commitment to making space exploration affordable and reliable for the nation.


  1. The use of The Out-of-Autoclave (OoA) manufacturing method for the payload design of Atlas V shows the company’s commitment to lowering production costs while ensuring the same level of reliability in its spacecraft. The OoA manufacturing approach has also been applied in its latest launch vehicle Vulcan Centaur.
  2. Another example of ULA’s innovative design practices can be seen in Atlas V 411 vehicle launching Solar Orbiter which is designed to meet the Earth’s departure trajectory. Unlike the usual rocket configuration, the fuel booster is mounted on side of Atlas V, while to ensure balance during launch vehicle flying in the sky, ULA used solid rocket booster’s stationary nozzle.
  3. To boost the lifting capacity of the rocket’s first stage, the company has integrated GEM-63, powerful solid motor propulsion into the Atlas V rocket system. Both these motors are manufactured using state-of-art automation and robotics.
  4. ULA is also working on Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) and human rating as part of its long-term rocket improvement strategy to support existing national security. With ACES, the company is looking to create a new upper stage for its Centaur and Atlas V rockets. ACES will improve rocket reusability and refueling capabilities. ULA is working on the idea that human rating for its rockets should be based on three primary vectors — launch vehicle reliability, the addition of an emergency detection system (EDS), and intact abort capacity. With such capabilities, the goal of safe, reliable transportation to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) would be possible.

Summing Up!

In a nutshell, it can be concluded that applying product engineering practices help businesses foster innovation in product development, ensure faster time-to-market, and reduce costs. By fine tuning the product design processes, companies can reap better ROI, gain customer trust, and deliver a competitive advantage as ULA. If you are also looking for a strategic partner to assist you in enterprise software development for cutting costs and optimizing processes, connect with us here at A3logics. We have 10+ years of experience in software product engineering, helping businesses throughout the product development lifecycle, from concept to delivery.

Drop us a line to know more about our product engineering services expertise.




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