Many folks may know that the United Launch Alliance produces powerful rockets at a sprawling factory in Decatur. But few people probably realize that the ULA has its own rocket delivery ship based in the Alabama city.
The R/S RocketShip, as it’s now called, is a 312-foot vessel designed specially to transport boosters and other large rocket components from Decatur to launch sites 8,000 miles away in California and nearly 1,700 miles distant in Florida.
The ship sailed into Port Canaveral last week to complete its first voyage from the 1.6 million-square-foot Decatur production plant to the Florida spaceport after a traditional renaming ceremony last month.
Its cargo: An Atlas V rocket for an upcoming national security mission.
“She is a highly maneuverable, unique custom-built rocket transport ship able to navigate both rivers and open ocean. The only U.S. flagged ship with that versatility,” ULA CEO Tory Bruno tweeted recently.
Voyage No. 132
ULA said the cargo vessel has actually been in use for nearly two decades, bringing Delta IV rocket stages to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
It also started carrying Atlas V stages in 2011 and soon will begin supporting the Vulcan Centaur program.
Voyage No. 132 departed Decatur on Sept. 27 for the 2,000-mile journey through shallow rivers, the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. It reached the Cape on Oct. 6.
The stages were offloaded and taken to the Atlas Spaceflight Operations Center to await further processing for their mission.
#ULARocketShip has completed its first rocket-delivery voyage since getting a new name and livery. The vessel transported an #AtlasV from the factory to Cape Canaveral to launch the #AFSPC7 mission. Read more in our blog: https://t.co/gqfrYSUNaJ
Watch highlights of the arrival: pic.twitter.com/LngGGYrmco
— ULA (@ulalaunch) October 7, 2019
The ship’s new name was selected after a contest that asked ULA employees to submit recommendations. ULA said RocketShip was chosen since it best reflects the vessel’s main mission.
The vessel was formerly known as the Delta Mariner.
The roll-on, roll-off cargo ship weighs nearly 19 million pounds and has complete living quarters and dining area for its crew of 16, a helipad on the top deck, a below-deck machine shop and sophisticated computers and navigational aids on the bridge.
It is operated by Foss Maritime on behalf of ULA.
You can watch a replay of the renaming ceremony, which observed all the maritime traditions.
This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.