After a United Launch Alliance rocket blasted off in a fiery arc from Florida last week, Tory Bruno shook hands with everybody in the control room. Then he headed home.
It’s his low-key routine for celebrating each spaceflight by the largest U.S. rocket company after 106 uneventful missions. “I have a nice glass of single-malt whiskey and then we move on to the next launch,” Bruno, chief executive officer of the Boeing Co.-Lockheed Martin Corp. venture, said in an interview.
Bruno’s ritual may be shaken by billionaire Elon Musk. With audacious talk of colonizing Mars, Musk’s SpaceX is upsetting the once-staid industry with lower-cost rocket flights and reusable boosters. The company has also broken ULA’s lock on U.S. defense missions.
“Bruno is in the peculiar position of having a perfect performance record and being under pressure from all sides,” said Loren Thompson, defense analyst at the Lexington Institute. “His company has literally never had a failed launch and yet the government, his competitors and even his co-owners are putting continuous pressure on him to change the enterprise in order to deliver better results.”
The challenges of revamping a company unused to price competition doesn’t faze Bruno, 54. He’s a mechanical engineer who has written management books based on the medieval Knights Templar, exploring themes such as “warrior monasticism.”
Since joining ULA from Lockheed in 2014, Bruno has shrunk executive ranks by a third, trimmed supplier costs 40 percent and overhauled manufacturing. He is developing a rocket to replace the storied, but expensive, Delta dating to the Sputnik era. The goal: compete with upstarts like SpaceX in a market where low costs now trump an unblemished track record.
“We’re making good progress, actually ahead of our plans,” Bruno said by telephone.
Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. can’t match ULA’s decade-long history of perfect launches. Even so, the explosion of one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets minutes into a June flight hasn’t diminished demand: It has a lineup of 70 scheduled launches valued at more than $10 billion, according to its website.