ULA Improves Launch Processing Through Off-Site Vertical Integration

Image Credit: United Launch Alliance

Image Credit: United Launch Alliance

August 25, 2015 – United Launch Alliance (ULA) and the U.S. Air Force have demonstrated a commitment to innovation and continuous improvement through implementation of Off-site Vertical Integration (OVI) of several structural elements and the Centaur upper stage for the Atlas V launch vehicle.

OVI significantly reduces the number of lifting operations performed at the Vertical Integration Facility (VIF) at Cape Canaveral, taking them off the critical path and allowing for reduced time between launches. Relocating these operations to the Delta Operations Center (DOC), an indoor facility, also mitigates risk of weather-related processing delays.

“We are very pleased to have successfully completed the first Off-site Vertical Integration for the upcoming Mobile User Objective System launch. With OVI, the team developed an innovative process that provides safer and more efficient launch processing of the Atlas vehicle.” said Jim Sponnick, ULA vice president, Atlas and Delta Programs. “The associated one-week reduction in the launch-to-launch processing spans enables us to better meet the launch needs of our customers.”

For a 500-series Atlas V rocket like the one launching the MUOS-4 mission, the OVI process accomplishes the integration of six structural elements along with the Centaur upper stage inside a test cell in the DOC, rather than conducting major portions of these complex hardware lifting and mating tasks outside at the VIF. Moving these operations inside provides a safer working environment for employees and mitigates weather impacts to launch schedules. In the last six years, there were 25 days of weather delays to launch vehicle stacking operations at the VIF.

One of the innovations required to enable OVI was the development of a transporter to safely move the five-story stack of rocket hardware approximately six miles from the DOC to the VIF. The transporter includes a tank pressure control system for the Centaur upper stage.

“The Off-site Vertical Integration process, including ground support equipment designs and operational procedures, were developed in collaboration with our Air Force customer to support launch manifest needs and enable continuous improvement to these critical launch operations,” said Sponnick.

“The Air Force is pleased to partner with ULA to find and implement efficiencies. We are fully onboard with efforts to implement continuous process improvement, a key tenant of Better Buying Power 3.0,” said Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, commander, Space and Missile Systems Center.

ULA’s next launch is the MUOS-4 mission for the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy, scheduled to launch August 31 aboard an Atlas V from Space Launch Complex-41 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.