Orbital ATK announced that the company’s Large Structure Center of Excellence manufacturing plant in Iuka, Mississippi has produced its 500th large composite rocket structure for United Launch Alliance (ULA) launch vehicles.

Over the past 18 years, Orbital ATK’s plant in Iuka has produced composite structures supporting launch vehicles for 68 Atlas V rockets, 28 Delta II rockets and 404 Delta IV rockets for United Launched Alliance. The ULA Delta IV composite structures manufactured by Orbital ATK include nose cones, aero skirts, fairings, payload attach fittings and diaphragms, interstages, centerbodys and thermal shields. The structures manufactured for ULA Atlas V include heat shields, interstages and boat tails. Their 500th structure is a boat tail manufactured for a ULA Atlas V launch vehicle.

“This production milestone is a remarkable accomplishment and a very special occasion for all of us,” said Steve Earl, Vice President and General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Aerospace Structures Division. “This effort speaks to the commitment, dedication and diligence of each and every one of our employees at the Iuka facility. They should all be proud of their contributions to ULA, the U.S. Air Force and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.”

According to Orbital ATK, the large composite structures produced at the Iuka manufacturing facility measure four to five meters in diameter and range from one to 19 meters in length. They add that the facility uses advanced hand layup, fiber placement, machining and inspection techniques for production. The 320,000-square-foot plant houses one of the largest autoclaves in the world, measuring 20 feet in diameter by 83 feet in length.

The company believes composite materials are “critically important in the production of next-generation aircraft and launch vehicles” due to their strength and lightweight. Those properties deliver a level of fuel efficiency and operability that is not possible with traditional metal manufacturing.