United Launch Alliance Chief Became a “Rocketman” at an Early Age

Business Council of Alabama member Salvatore “Tory” Bruno’s rocket experience started when he was 10 growing up in rural California mountains.

Bruno found an old, deteriorated stick of dynamite. Behind his barn was an iron pipe. As long as it isn’t tightly enclosed, dynamite can burn very rapidly. And powerfully. You can guess the rest.

“I made my own rocket,” Bruno said in a recent interview. “That’s where I got my first brush with rocketry.”

Bruno now serves as president and CEO of United Launch Alliance, a 50-50, 11-year-old joint venture between BCA members Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company, two of the launch industry’s most experienced and successful organizations that go back more than 50 years in rocket and space exploration.

ULA’s rocket factories are in Decatur and Texas. From Decatur, North America’s largest rocket factory, rockets are loaded on a specially built ship that travels river systems to Cape Canaveral, Fla., or to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, for final preparation and launch.

Bruno is really into rockets now, the cutting-edge varieties that send payloads into space, including one which will send a package to the moon in 2019 as part of the 50th anniversary observance of the United States’ manned lunar landing.

ULA’s Atlas and Delta rockets provide reliable, cost-efficient space launch services for the U.S. government and commercial customers.

In November, a ULA Delta II rocket successfully boosted multiple satellites into orbit for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

That was ULA’s eighth launch in 2017 and the 123rd successful launch since the company was formed in December 2006. Since first launched in 1989, Delta II rockets have now launched 154 times.  Another ULA launch was scheduled for mid-December. The final Delta II mission is scheduled for 2018 for a NASA mission.

Rocketry is not new. But it requires constant vigilance in a competitive international environment, cost-cutting, inventing and adapting new technology, serving customers, and successfully and cheaply sending payloads into space.

The challenge is always to cut launch weight and create affordable transportation that currently costs about $10,000 per pound to move into orbit. Fuel is actually about the least expensive part of a launch.

Now for The Future

With more than a century of combined heritage, ULA is the nation’s most experienced and reliable launch service provider.

Bruno has been overseeing ULA’s transformation over the past three years and the restructuring involving the world’s most experienced and skilled rocket scientists who are positioning the company as a competitive powerhouse to serve the United States and take rocketry in a new direction.

ULA has a “big vision and a strategic vision” and has “excellent things going on in” its business, said Bruno.

Without getting too technical, the “excellent things” include new rocket designs and manufacturing technologies, a high-performing engine cycle, revolutionary new upper stages, reusable and expendable vehicles, and long-lasting booster capability.

“All that is happening now,” said Bruno, who praised ULA’s numerous suppliers that have stepped up with the company’s vision.

The big vision is building Atlas V rockets that will launch humans to the International Space Station aboard the Boeing-built Crew Space Transportation Starliner spacecraft. The CST-100 is designed to accommodate seven passengers, or a mix of crew and cargo, for missions to low-earth orbit, or for NASA service missions to the ISS. It can be reused up to 10 times with a six-month turnaround time.

“This will be Americans going to space and bringing them back home,” Bruno said.

ULA also eyes the international commercial space market, which requires competitive pricing coupled with ULA’s launch reliability. “We are reintroducing ourselves and letting them know we’re back,” Bruno said.

ULA’s big picture includes providing transportation that will help other companies work in space. “We are working actively on an eventual lunar economy,” Bruno said.

Bruno joined Lockheed Martin in 1984 and has served in engineering and program management positions. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the California Polytechnic State University, in San Luis Obispo, Calif., and has completed graduate courses and management programs at Harvard University, Santa Clara University, the Wye River Institute, San Jose State University and the Defense Acquisition University.

When asked about what he is most proud of, Bruno mentions that that the numerous ULA sites have “lots of interns.”

“I put myself through college and interned,” he said. “Our people in Decatur working on manufacturing … build intern rockets. Before they go home they fly a rocket. Our interns work with K-12 students to create their payloads that are integrated into our rockets. These little packages that get sent back is a real cool experience for them.”

It’s a far cry from a 10-year-old’s iron-pipe rocketry powered by ancient dynamite.