United Launch Alliance (ULA) is a private aerospace launch provider formed in 2006 through a joint venture of The Boeing Company and Lockheed Martin Corporation. ULA provides spacecraft launch services to United States government agencies, such as the Department of Defense, NASA and the National Reconnaissance Office, as well as launch services for non-government satellites. ULA company headquarters are in Centennial, Colorado, while manufacturing, assembly
Currently, ULA subsidiary United Launch Services LLC (ULS) contracts for launch services using the Atlas and Delta launch vehicles. The Atlas and Delta families have been used for more than 50 years to carry weather, telecommunications
While Delta 4 Heavy, which used to be the world's most powerful operational rocket, can send nearly 32 tons of payload (more than the weight of two standard school buses) into low-Earth orbit, Vulcan will be able to boost 80,000 pounds to low-Earth orbit or up to 35,900 pounds to the elliptical geosynchronous transfer orbits (GTO) used by communications satellites bound for operational stations 22,300 above the equator. Vulcan will be 28 feet tall, and its initial version will have two U.S.-made first stage-engines, up to six solid-fuel strap-on boosters and an upgraded Centaur second stage with up to four engines. Later versions will have reusable first-stage engines and an advanced upper stage known as the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, or ACES, which ULA is aiming to introduce in 2024. ACES is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen upper-stage rocket expected to boost satellite payloads to geosynchronous orbit or, in the case of an interplanetary space probe, to escape velocity.
The least powerful version of the Vulcan rocket, one without solid-fuel boosters and the ACES upper stage, is expected to start at less than $100 million. The base version of ULA's Atlas 5 rocket is currently about $109 million, while a Delta 4 Heavy costs $350 million per launch (a figure that is high because the latter is not reusable), in contrast to SpaceX's $90 million Falcon Heavy. The Vulcan's engines, which account for two-thirds of the cost of the stage, will be recovered and reused after every flight.