Spaceflight Shakeup: Leading Rocket Company ULA Is Reportedly Up for Sale

A ULA rocket launch. United Launch Alliance is reportedly up for sale.
A ULA rocket launch. United Launch Alliance is reportedly up for sale.

A ULA Delta IV launch, January 12, 2018.

Ars Technica spaceflight reporter Eric Berger writes that prominent launch provider ULA is up for sale and that investment firm Morgan Stanley and consulting firm Bain & Company are overseeing the transaction. As to ULA’s potential suitor, we can only speculate.

Three unnamed sources reportedly confirmed to Berger that “potential buyers have been contacted about the opportunity” and that the sale could happen in the coming months. Parent companies Boeing and Lockheed Martin are remaining tight-lipped on the matter, independently telling Berger that they don’t “comment on potential market rumors or speculation about financial activities.”

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Founded in 2006, United Launch Alliance came into existence as an amalgamation of launch divisions belonging to Boeing and Lockheed Martin, in a military-minded deal brokered by the U.S. government. This created a temporary monopoly in the U.S. rocket industry, as Elon Musk’s SpaceX hadn’t yet launched its first rocket, according to Quartz reporter Tim Fernholz. Boeing and Lockheed Martin were banking on a “significant amount of commercial launches to subsidize their government contracts,” but that “business never emerged,” Fernholz writes. Still, ULA used its Atlas and Delta rockets to launch batches of national defense satellites over the years.

The company is on the verge of launching its Vulcan Centaur rocket, with the two-stage heavy-lift launch vehicle scheduled to perform its inaugural flight on May 4. ULA is under contract with the Pentagon to launch 60% of its payloads from now until 2027 (SpaceX won the remaining 40%). Amazon is also working with ULA, with Vulcan slated to perform 38 missions for Project Kuiper, an internet satellite constellation meant to rival SpaceX’s Starlink. These deals were brokered under the guidance of Tory Bruno, a former Lockheed Martin executive who became ULA’s CEO in 2014.

Fernholz says ULA was valued at $1.2 billion back in 2021, but its current and true valuation remains a matter of speculation. In addition to Boeing and Lockheed Martin—one of which might seek to become sole owner—potential buyers include Northrop Grumman, ABL Space Systems, L3Harris, Amazon, and Blue Origin, the latter two having connections to Jeff Bezos.

Blue Origin, founded and owned by Bezos, manufactures Vulcan’s BE-4 engine. The company is currently working on its own big rocket, New Glenn, but merging the two programs “could let Blue Origin start flying real missions now and give it some breathing space to execute on its more ambitious vehicle,” which is fully reusable, unlike Vulcan, Fernholz writes. Interesting point.

We eagerly await further news on this potential sale and the shockwaves that will course through the industry as an inevitable result.

More: SpaceX Rival Rocket Lab Targeting Multi-Continent Launches Later This Month

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