The Augustine Commission report, issued last week to the White House and public, raised various concerns about the Ares I. The major ones were cost and timing. Despite more ambitious NASA predictions, the panel concluded Ares I would not be ready for launch until 2017 — two years after NASA plans to decommission the International Space Station, and 5 years after NASA predicted it would have the Ares I ready. The panel also concluded NASA could not complete the Ares I within the allowed budget. Use of commercial launch rockets would accelerate the program and reduce its cost, the panel said. The panel also recommended extending ISS life until at least 2020.
What has Decatur and United Launch Alliance interested is the commercial rocket proposal. The Delta IV and Atlas V are the only commercial rockets with enough launches to suggest reliability. They are the only Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, and as such the only ones used by the Department of Defense. Human rating would probably come much more quickly for the rockets than any competitors.
ULA assembles both rockets in Decatur’s ULA plant. The plant was built by Boeing for the Delta IV. Early this month, ULA — a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin — received its first Atlas V hardware, so it now is engaged in producing that rocket.