May 23--A Decatur-built Atlas V rocket launched a National Reconnaissance Office satellite Thursday, the sixth of 15 planned United Launch Alliance missions in 2014.
The launch was at 9:09 a.m. local time from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
The military payload was classified.
ULA for the first time revealed the cost of its launches this week. An Atlas V 401, such as the one that launched Thursday, costs the United States about $164 million when part of a block-buy, ULA head Michael Gass said. The average of all ULA launches, according to company figures, is $225 million per launch.
The first stage of the Atlas V uses a Russian RD-180 engine. The engine has been central to a dispute between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine, with Russia threatening to ban exports of the engine in response to economic sanctions imposed by the United States.
ULA competitor SpaceX has focused on the engine, built by state-controlled NPO Energomash.
Appearing in March before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said U.S. access to space should not depend on an engine built in Russia.
"In light of Russia's de facto annexation of Ukraine'sCrimea region and the formal severing of military ties, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing assured access to space for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin's permission," Musk said.
ULA maintains a two-year supply of the engines. It also has a license to produce the engines in the United States.
The launch Thursday was the 83rd since ULA, a joint venture between Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. was formed in 2006. The company has about 1,000 workers at its Red Hat Road plant in Decatur.
The next ULA launch, from a Delta 2, is scheduled for early July.
Eric Fleischauer can be reached at 256-340-2435 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter
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