Press Release

Focus on Space: EELV

By SpaceRef Editor
February 26, 2002
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American military involvement in space will become more critical in coming years and the development of the next generation of space launch vehicles will continue U.S. space dominance for years to come.

The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles are designed to eventually replace today’s existing fleets of Delta, Atlas and Titan boosters by the middle of the next decade.

Unlike its predecessors, the EELV will give the Air Force the ability to use a single rocket body for most payloads. By attaching additional boosters to the rocket body the EELV will be able to adjust for heavier payloads bound for higher orbits.

The reason for this innovation has as much to do with the past history of American rocketry as future space competition.

Beginning in the late 1950s the first generations of U.S. ballistic missiles, the Atlas, Thors, and Titans, were developed to speed nuclear warheads thousands of miles through the vacuum of space onto targets in the former Soviet Union or China. They were quickly adapted for sending satellites and man-carrying space capsules into the heavens.

By the early 1970s, NASA budgets were drastically cutback following the Apollo moon landing program and development of a reusable space transportation system — the space shuttle — became a top priority at NASA.

All existing launchers of the time were to be terminated and every U.S. satellite was to ride aboard the shuttles. As a result further development of U.S. rockets was stopped and the existing infrastructure for them was to be dismantled.

But the shuttles proved unable to carry out the number of launches that would be needed to be the sole U.S. carrier rocket, so the Reagan administration restored commercial rockets as alternatives to the shuttles in 1985.

The Challenger shuttle disaster the following year and the resulting delay in launch schedules forced even greater emphasis on expendable systems. But the designs of these rockets were still based on the ballistic missiles of the 1950s, although with as many new features as could be retrofitted onto the vehicles.

The result were rockets that still cost upward of $100 to $500 million dollars each, with the cost of lifting satellites topping $10,000 per pound.

“The EELV will provide us with a more affordable launch vehicle and save the Air Force between 25 and 50 percent over existing launch vehicles,” said Maj. David Maloney, authority on the EELV with AFSPC Directorate of Requirements. “Eventually the EELV will replace medium- and heavy-lift systems currently in service.”

There are two EELV rocket types – a Lockheed Martin Atlas V scheduled for launch in May 2002, and the Boeing Delta IV slotted for July. Both launches will take place from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla.

This acquisition of the EELV will save the Air Force over $6 billion in launch costs over the next 20 years.

“The EELV is the future of the military space launch,” said Maloney. “This vehicle will ensure our access to space at a more affordable rate for the 21st

SpaceRef staff editor.