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Did you know there are over 1,000 satellites zipping around our planet right now? They may be out of sight, but every second of every day these orbiting oracles make our lives on earth safer, smarter, and a lot more fun.

Just imagine going on a simple family road trip without the help of satellites. We couldn’t use our phones to catch up with loved ones or call for help in an emergency. The kids wouldn't be quietly texting, Facebooking or watching their favorite videos on YouTube. GPS would not be guiding us safely along the route, Google Maps would be useless if we got lost, and we couldn't check the latest weather forecast at our destination.

Entering Space isn't Easy

In addition to the everyday conveniences, satellites are vital to many national security and space exploration efforts, which help keep us safe and advance science forward. But sending satellites and other payloads into space is no easy task. The sheer complexity, cost, and danger associated with every rocket launch places this business in a class by itself. Leading the pack, with approximately 1,300 missions under its belt, is the United Launch Alliance (ULA).

At liftoff, a rocket has to accelerate its payload from zero to 20,000 miles per hour to get it into orbit, but with more rocket scientists on staff than any company in the world, ULA maintains an unmatched record for launch reliability. “Launch day is an awesome sight but it’s also a reminder of how many people and how much effort it takes to get there,” said Michael Gass, President and CEO of ULA, during an interview with SAP. “Some people call it years of preparation for minutes of terror.”

Formed in 2006, Denver based ULA is a 50-50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company. ULA brings together the Atlas and Delta expendable launch systems, which have been used for more than 50 years to support America’s presence in space. “The space capabilities that we launch provide communications, weather mapping, and planetary and interplanetary science,” said Matthew Smith, VP of Engineering at ULA.

A Relentless Pursuit of Perfection

Core to ULA values is what it calls perfect product delivery – a relentless pursuit of perfection to continuously improve processes and products, satisfy every customer, and develop a world-class work environment. “Everything that we do is focused on making sure our customers are provided what they need to accomplish their mission. We’re using the latest in systems integration abilities to make sure that we’re always improving,” said Daniel Collins, COO of ULA.

To ensure the business runs with the same speed, efficiency, and accuracy as its rockets, ULA leverages business software from SAP. Prior to implementing SAP solutions, ULA had multiple operating systems at different factories, geographical locations, and launch sites, which created a lot of unnecessary cost and confusion throughout the company. “We had fifteen systems all doing the same kinds of tasks for building, testing, and launching the rockets,” said Paul Fuqua of the IT Solutions Group at ULA.

As ULA was implementing SAP solutions for Human Resources and Finance, it started looking for a complex assembly manufacturing solution (CAMS). “When we were evaluating a CAMS solution for our implementation we wanted to make sure we had a system that would integrate with our other environments,” said Fuqua. ULA also wanted a solution that would provide more visibility into its build and test activities and help increase its launch rate.

ULA selected the SAP Complex Assembly Manufacturing solution. Both manufacturing and launch operations use the solution on a day-to-day basis to build and test the rockets, and during launch it is used to make sure all the build-ups are ready for blast-off. “The most important benefit the SAP Complex Assembly Manufacturing solution has provided is the ability to view our work in a simple easily accessible format anywhere, anytime, at any state. That is an amazing feature that we’ve never had before,” said Fuqua.

Gaining Speed and Agility

The deployment of SAP software at ULA went as smoothly as one of its missions. Operations hummed along and customer payloads continued to fly into orbit without a hitch. “We made our deadlines and got the company up and running all without impacting our business,” said Smith.

Benefits from using SAP software resonate throughout the organization. Having one system to organize, standardize, and synthesize all of its data really helped ULA come together and operate as a team. “Speed is everything in our business – it drives down cost and provides better service. Leveraging the capabilities of an integrated IT solution like SAP enables us to deliver products and services more effectively,” said Gass.

Customers and citizens also reap benefits. “We need to launch when our customers are ready to launch. That is where SAP has really helped,” said Collins. And keeping young minds interested in science and space is also a priority for ULA. “It’s fascinating, exciting work and it also provides a bigger mission of getting high school and college students interested in science technology and exploration. Those things are critical to the national interest, not just to getting a scientific payload to space,” said Smith.

The strategic partnership between ULA and SAP is strong. SAP is invested in the growth and evolution of ULA and is committed to helping define and implement its future roadmap. “SAP is integral and part of the backbone of our company. It is part of our recipe for mission success,” said Gass.

With SAP in place, ULA has integrated and improved business operations, increased mission success, and reduced costs for its customers. It has also boosted the quality of life and opened up the universe to millions of people planted firmly on the ground.

Watch the ULA Showcase Video:

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