Space & Innovation

Want to Build a Rocket? There's an App for That

Long-time military contractor United Launch Alliance shows off a new, customer-friendly face.

<p>Rocketbuilder.com</p>

Hoping to cash in on its perfect flight record and precision orbital delivery services, United Launch Alliance unveiled a new website and app that lets potential customers, engineers and armchair astronauts build and price a ride to space.

Rocketbuilder.com is industry stalwart ULA's latest attempt to level the playing field after tech entrepreneur Elon Musk entered the market with his cut-rate Falcon 9 rockets. His firm, SpaceX, was the first to publish rocket prices on a website, with a standard Falcon 9 now going for $62 million.

Rocketbuilder takes public price tags to a whole new level, with options for not only technical services, but even hosting VIP rocket factory tours and launch parties as well.

Most important to ULA, however, is the website's ability to put a dollar figure on previously hidden value, such as reduced insurance premiums available to customers thanks to ULA rockets' perfect 113-flight history.

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ULA chief executive Tory Bruno says the insurance cost savings on a satellite worth $300 million is about $12 million.

Other value comes from ULA's ability to launch satellites with minimal delays, which Bruno says is less than two weeks from the date agreed to at contact signing, compared with an industry average of five months.

An operational satellite can bring in $6 million a month to the owner, but only if the bird is in orbit.

In webcast press conference on Wednesday, Bruno also touted the Atlas rocket's ability to deliver a satellite into an extremely precise orbit, which saves fuel so the spacecraft can remain operational longer, increasing revenue.

Those attributes cut the base price of a $109 million Atlas rocket down to about $44 million, Bruno said.

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SpaceX, which is hoping to return to flight on Dec. 16 following a Sept 1 launch pad accident, declined to comment on ULA's new rocket-pricing tool.

Rocketbuilder.com makes pricing transparent not only to a satellite company's purchasing department but also to its engineers, who will be able to easily compare cost impacts while satellites are still in the design phase.

"It will be easier to buy a ride to space than to get a plane ticket home for the holidays," Bruno said.

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