National Reconnaissance Office is one of significant customers for ULA. Close cooperation still tightens.
United States Air Force is going to sign contract with United Launch Alliance for modification of two rockets. It is known that at stake are Atlas V (421)with four meter long fairing (mainly used for large satellites for example Orion satellite with launch planned on 27th April 2016) and Delta IV Heavy. Both rockets are designed to lift heavy cargo with unusual dimensions. Version designated for further modifications is 421: equipped with 4 m long fairing, one Centaur engine and two boosters. Atlas is also offered with 5 m long fairing, which implies that dimensions of payload are not reasons for modifying in this case. Delta rocket in Heavy version has payload capability for GTO missions at 14220 kg, almost 5000 kg more than Atlas V. ULA was planning to retire Delta in 2019 and eventually replace it with new Vulcan rocket. But date of finishing modification project is expected on 30 January 2019 – ULA would not be able to present Vulcan earlier so again Delta IV will keep its position of most commercial-non-competitive and government-most-irreplaceable rocket. Both Atlas V and Delta IV Heavy seemed to be helping in keeping stable position of ULA as main NRO launch service provider.
As far as both rockets will be utilized in classified missions, range and details of modifications is not given to public. Costs of modification program are worth $373 million; it is quite small amount if compared to contracted in 2013, 36 Atlas V and Delta IV rockets with additional launch services were worth $11 billion. But another contract puts new sense in keeping Delta IV in production. Being too expensive for commercial market and while is being replaced with Atlas V in launches contracted with government agencies, still remains irreplaceable for NRO.