Tory Bruno, the president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, during a press conference after the launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft was scrubbed on June 1, 2024, in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Tory Bruno, the president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, during a press conference after the launch of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft was scrubbed on June 1, 2024, in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images

ULA owners add ‘review team’ after Pentagon airs concerns about launch schedule

CEO also announces payload change for Vulcan’s upcoming certification flight.

As the Pentagon wonders whether United Launch Alliance will keep its launch schedule, co-owners Lockheed Martin and Boeing have formed an “independent review team” to help keep things on track.

Last month, Space Force acquisition czar Frank Calvelli laid out his concerns about ULA’s Vulcan heavy-lift rocket, which first flew in January and is slated to launch 25 national-security missions by the end of 2027. In a May 10 letter, Calvelli noted that ULA has yet to prove it can build Vulcans fast enough to handle the 70 total launches that the company has on order—and that the company has recently averaged fewer than a half-dozen launches a year.

Within a week of the letter, Lockheed and Boeing had established the new team, ULA CEO Tory Bruno told reporters on Wednesday. The team will look at the entire program “from soup to nuts,” including ULA’s production facilities and launch pad readiness, then provide pointers and techniques that may help keep things on track, he said.

Once that team’s work is done, Bruno said he will establish a review team of his own that will operate “for the next couple of years” until Vulcans are launching quickly enough to suit ULA’s customers. 

Bruno said he’s confident in the company’s plan to reach the needed launch cadence. ULA is basically doubling its infrastructure to reach its goal of launching every two weeks by late 2025. But, he said, “it is a lot of work, so it needs to be paid attention to and it needs to be managed.”

Before ULA can start flying missions for the Space Force, it must complete a second certification flight, which is planned for September. Bruno said that delays to the intended payload, Sierra Space’s Dream Chaser space plane, mean that ULA will launch an “inert payload” plus some “experiments and demonstrations” to help develop future technology for the Centaur upper stage.

Bruno said that the newly certified Vulcan would have time to launch two Space Force missions—USSF-106 and USSF-87—by the end of the year.  

Bruno said that Calvelli’s letter didn’t figure in the decision to change the second flight’s payload.

The CEO said he had made a “personal commitment” to fly the Space Force’s missions as scheduled. Calvelli “didn't have to remind me of my promise. I'll just put it that way. This was always the plan. If anything happened—undue schedule risk from Dream Chaser being ready—then I would switch to an alternate payload and that's what we got,” he said.  

Next year will be big for ULA, Bruno said: 20 launches between Atlas V and Vulcan “if all the satellites show up.”

Getting Vulcan up to speed is a key step in ULA’s plans to compete against SpaceX, which has dominated the market in recent years with its Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX is working on its own heavy-lift rocket, Starship, which will be reusable.   

On the non-military side, June was a big month for ULA: it launched two astronauts into space on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft. But Starliner planned one-week flight is still going on after three weeks. The spacecraft is docked at the International Space Station as Boeing and NASA work through helium leaks and problems with a few of the thrusters.

When asked about Starliner, Bruno said ULA’s contribution is finished, but said there’s a large reserve of supplies, including helium, on the space station, so there’s “no urgency” to their return.

“NASA and Boeing will bring them home when they're done working and when they're ready and everything is safe. I have no concerns about [NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams] being on the station for the extended period of time,” Bruno said.