News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


ULA good in short term, even better in long term

What a coup.

The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday provisionally approved the creation of United Launch Alliance, a merger of Boeing Co.ís and Lockheed Martin Corp.ís satellite-launch rocket businesses.

The good news is that the combined production facilities will be right here in Decatur.

Short term, it will be a pleasant boost in employment. Officials expect about 250 Lockheed employees to come to Decatur to produce the Atlas rockets. Thatís a positive, but hardly makes up for losses at bankrupt Delphi Corp. and Solutia Corp.

The stellar benefit is longer term. The FTC decision was unique in that it knowingly approved a monopoly. Lockheed and Boeing are the only producers of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles. EELVs are the only rockets capable of launching medium and heavy satellites, so the government uses EELVs almost exclusively. Many commercial operations choose EELVs, too, because they are more reliable than cheaper overseas alternatives. Satellites cost up to a billion dollars apiece, so spending extra on the launch vehicle is not a bad investment.

What this all means is that Decatur, as home to ULAís production facilities, will be pivotal both to governmental and high-priced commercial satellites.

When Boeing built its Delta plant, it expected a brisk commercial satellite business. The economy, however, decided otherwise. Consequently, almost all of ULAís initial orders will be governmental. Stated differently, EELV orders are at their lowest possible level.

Satellites, however, are increasingly necessary for commercial projects. As the economy picks up, and as companies are forced to replace old satellites, EELV business is destined to increase. As sole home to EELV production, increased commercial sales will be a windfall for Decatur.

The ULA also suggests a western anchor to what could become a Huntsville-Decatur aerospace corridor. Aerospace expansions at Redstone Arsenal and Marshall Space Flight Center will attract many high-tech suppliers. In the past most have scrambled to be in Huntsville. The ULA could make a Decatur mailing address more attractive to high-tech employers. And that would be good for all of us.

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