There’s no room for error when launching key military spacecraft, Gary Payton, the deputy under secretary of the Air Force for space programs, said Friday.
“We’re at the point now where our programs are so critical to the warfighter that we cannot afford a launch failure,” he said. Critical launches this year — all being carried to orbit with ULA’s Atlas V or Delta IV — include four “first of their kind” spacecraft: the first GPS Block 2F satellite, the first Space Based Surveillance System satellite, the first Advanced EHF communications satellite, and ORS-1, the first Operationally Responsive Space operational satellite.
“So I need four good launch vehicles,” he said.
With expensive and important payloads, the cost of the rocket is secondary.
“I am paying extra for mission assurance on all of our launch vehicles, but to me that’s great,” Payton said. “I would love to save $10 million on a launch, but if it costs me — if that launch vehicle fails and I splash a $2 billion satellite — then I’ve been pushing on the wrong end of the lever.”
“Launch reliability is my top priority. Our constellations for any of our missions cannot tolerate a launch failure.”
Payton’s comments are a reminder that human-rating ULA rockets should not be a major step. The cost of their payloads and their importance to our troops mean ULA is already building in as much reliability as possible.