Interview: Tory Bruno leads ULA towards greater competitiveness via reliability, reusability and the lessons of the Knights Templar

by | Oct 28, 2016 | Blue Origin, commercial launch services, Launches, Technology | 0 comments

Salvatore T. “Tory” Bruno, President and CEO of United Launch Alliance (ULA), lays out his plans for the company in an email interview with David Todd, Seradata’s Head of Space Content. The issues include how to keep ULA competitive in a more open market and why the partially reusable Vulcan rocket is key to its future. While Tory Bruno hails from a technological background, his other area of expertise is medieval history, and that era’s concepts of honour and family are a vital part of his managerial approach.

Since you became leader of ULA in 2014, what major changes in the organisation have occurred? 

We have embarked on a multi-year cost reduction initiative to cut the price of our launch services in half. This cost reduction effort spanned across all elements of the value stream. We have cut the time it takes to build our rockets in half. We have cut the time it takes to assemble them with the spacecraft at the launch site and then fly them by more than two thirds. I have entered into strategic partnerships with key suppliers, which has reduced our total supply chain cost by 36% so far. We have also flattened our organisation and streamlined our processes. We are also greatly simplifying our product offering with the retirements of the Delta II and Delta IV Medium rocket families. Leveraging these cost reduction initiatives, as we move towards launching the Vulcan rocket, will enable us to be more competitive in a commercial market. Vulcan will bring forward elements of Atlas and Delta along with our unique processes and disciplines, giving us a highly reliable rocket that will continue to lift any payload to any orbit. The Vulcan’s American engine and its ACES reusable upper stage will introduce revolutionary capabilities that will change how we go to space and what we can do there. Through innovative approaches, ULA is truly revolutionising the launch industry and making space more accessible.

ULA is now offering a new RapidLaunch™ quick response launch service. Is this the result of ULA losing some of its government launches to SpaceX and hence having some free launch capacity? Is this service mainly for commercial launches?

RapidLaunch™ leverages our total command of our manifest and unmatched schedule reliability. The average delay experienced when flying on other providers is four to five months. With ULA, it is a week or less. We piloted RapidLaunch™ on the Orbital ATK OA4 and OA6 missions, when we cut the industry standard order span of two or three years to under 12 months in order to recover the ISS’s cargo needs after other providers had lost three out of four missions. In its current offering, RapidLaunch™ can allow a customer to go to space as quickly as three months from placing an order. This will fundamentally change how launch services are purchased. RapidLaunchis open to all of our customers.

Previously it was left to Lockheed Martin Commercial Launch Services (LMCLS) to run commercial flights, is this still the case?

Yes, that is still accurate.

It is known that you plan to end most Delta IV launches for cost reasons. Does that have any implications for the Boeing/Lockheed Martin ownership of ULA?

The ownership model for ULA does not require Delta to be offered. I do plan on phasing out the Delta IV medium rocket in the next few years, but will retain the Delta IV Heavy as long as my customers need it to ensure a smooth transition to Vulcan. I can share that the Vulcan will be superior in reliability, cost, weight and capability. We will gradually phase out the Atlas V rocket and the Delta IV Heavy when our government customer is prepared to transition.

In percentage terms, how much more expensive is it to launch a Delta IV compared to an equivalent sized Atlas V? How long will the heavy-lift version of Delta IV be operated?

Delta IV is approximately 30 per cent more expensive to manufacture and launch than an equivalent Atlas V vehicle. We will gradually phase out the Delta IV Heavy when our government customer is prepared to transition to the Vulcan/ACES.

While your competitors are going for reusable first stages for their new rockets, your proposed Vulcan launcher uses a reusable pod of engines, which is ejected from the stage and recovered by a helicopter. Is this cheaper to operate and how are the fuel lines cut to allow this to take place?

The Sensible, Modular, Autonomous Return Technology (SMART) initiative will be introduced into Vulcan Centaur, allowing ULA to reuse the most expensive portion of the first stage – the booster main engines – via mid-air capture. This allows a controlled recovery environment providing the confidence needed to re-fly the hardware. The engines will be released via a pyrotechnic separation joint, similar to the technology that was used for the Atlas I “half stage” engine separation. This approach has several advantages. It can be performed on every mission because no fly-back fuel has to be reserved. It does not add heavy and expensive systems to enable fly-back, so the logistics of recovery are simpler, and it provides a more benign environment during re-entry. In addition, ACES, which is ULA’s fully reusable in orbit upper stage, brings revolutionary new capabilities to the Vulcan rocket fleet, including 30 per cent more performance than the Delta IV Heavy, mission durations extended to weeks, unlimited engine burns and refuelling/reuse.

As it currently stands, for the Vulcan you look likely to go for the liquid oxygen (LOx)/liquid natural gas (LNG) BE4 engine built by Blue Origin. Are there any issues with respect to using an engine from a potential competitor, and is there any chance of you staying with a LOx/Kerosene type instead?

The BE4 remains our primary path with its expected completion approximately a year and a half ahead of our back-up, AR1. We also expect the BE4 to be significantly more affordable. Our partnership with Blue Origin remains strong and reflects complimentary capabilities and future market positioning.

The Atlas V is regarded, along with the Ariane 5, as one of the best rockets globally in terms of launch vehicle reliability. How will you ensure that reliability of the new Vulcan launch vehicle matches the high expectations your customers and insurers have of ULA?

The backbone of ULA’s phenomenal record is our processes and disciplines, along with our technology. Our perfect record of 111 is all the more remarkable when you consider that it is spread across the 41 configurations we offer. Even the mighty Atlas V, at 65 flights, has accomplished its success with many configurations having flown as little as two times. We will bring the best of the Atlas and Delta technology forward, along with our know-how and disciplines, which have made our fleet of rockets the most reliable in the world. The Vulcan will do it all—affordability with higher performance—while continuing to deliver ULA’s unparalleled reliability and precision. Using US-built solutions, state-of-the-art design and manufacturing techniques, the Vulcan will result in a low recurring cost. Additionally, the Vulcan will offer more purchasing flexibility – for both civil and commercial customers – with critical missions. Instead of a dozen different rockets, all of which require their own research, development, maintenance and other costs, the Vulcan will be one system for all missions.

Access to Space is very important for our industry and availability of launch services often seems to be caught in a bottle-neck these days. How does the launch industry respond to this concern?

ULA will continue to lead the industry in making space more accessible by offering the marketplace a sure ride, one that will always get you to your destination, when you want to go. Our new innovations like RapidLaunch™ will make it even easier to find your ride. And, as we bring all of this to the marketplace, at a substantially reduced cost, we are making space more accessible. When Vulcan/ACES comes on line, going to space will feel as easy as catching the afternoon commuter train.

You have a history in missile defence and nuclear weaponry. How does the launch industry differ?

I do. I have been building rockets my entire life. I spent several decades in Missile Defence and Strategic Deterrence. These are high consequence systems that must be completely safe and utterly reliable. I now have the unique perspective of having managed the only two major systems that have broken the 100 consecutive successes mark. This is the “sound barrier” of large rocket reliability. My years developing and managing systems that absolutely had to work, where lives were at risk if they did not, prepared me well to join the world’s best Space Launch team.

You have written books about the Knights Templar. What key things should we know about them and are you one?

My books focus on how the Knights ran their multinational business and how they were challenged by a fundamental disruption in their environment. They conclude with lessons learned for powerful, highly successful intuitions that face a need to transform. I am a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Jerusalem, and its Order of Merit, a modern charitable society and UN NGO patterned after the medieval organisation.

If you could go back in time and be a knight of old (like Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee) what would be on your coat of arms? Do you do any of the modern equivalents of those traditional knight activities of jousting, archery, falconry etc (i.e. horse riding or fencing, shooting, owning a budgie, etc.)?

I fenced competitively in college, along with archery. I collect the odd medieval antique which usually turns into a dust collector. Growing up on a ranch in the Sierras, I shoot and ride. I still have two horses and am on horseback whenever I have the time. If you catch me on the trail, you’d likely see some yahoo’ing and breakneck galloping through the woods, but don’t tell my wife. My coat of arms needs some rockets and an eagle.

Comment by David Todd: Tory Bruno has convincingly laid out his mission to keep ULA competitive following the loss of its US Government launch monopoly. Initially this will be achieved via a combination of high reliability and quick availability in ULA’s RapidLaunch™ service. which will also be open for commercial flights via LMCLS. Longer term, however, Bruno sees reusability as the way forward. He explained why Vulcan’s somewhat complex air-capture technique for engine recovery is more fuel efficient for payload injection than other forms of rocket reuse. Perhaps it is best not to challenge him to a joust or duel on any of the above points as he knows how to ride a horse, wield a sword and even shoot accurately, although presumably never from the roofs of ULA’s buildings at Cape Canaveral*. Tory Bruno’s code of honour, probably derived from the Knights Templar’s chivalric notions, is apparent in the Latin motto meaning “Honour and Family” on his suggested coat-of-arms. By the way, his design’s black eagle shield supported by two rockets is just about allowable on a medieval coat of arms (China’s black powder secret had been imported by then). Having said that, one wonders whether, given his apparent colourful personality, a more colourful bird might have been more appropriate for his shield? Although probably not a budgie.

*Shortly after the on-pad failure of Falcon 9 at Cape Canaveral in September, SpaceX demanded that the nearby ULA building roofs were searched (presumably for evidence of a possible sniper).

Biography of Salvatore T. “Tory” Bruno

Salvatore T. “Tory” Bruno has been president and chief executive officer of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) since 2014. Prior to joining ULA, Bruno served as the vice president and general manager of Lockheed Martin Strategic and Missile Defense Systems. He originally joined Lockheed Martin in 1984, having previously worked for FBM and ICBM.

Tory Bruno gained a degree in Mechanical Engineering from California Polytechnic State University and has direct experience in the design of the propulsion and control systems of ballistic missiles, missile defence systems and hypersonic re-entry vehicles, and holds several patents. He has also received various management honours and is a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Jerusalem and a holder of its Order of Merit. He is also the author of two books about the medieval Knights Templar.

We would like to thank Tory Bruno for this interview and ULA’s public relations executive, Jessica Rye, for arranging it.

About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned SpaceTrak Launch & Satellite Database. Trusted by 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, SpaceTrak is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

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