Bollinger Builds Unique US RoRo to Transport Rockets for ULA to Launch Site

RoRo rocket transport
New SpaceShip is designed to carry Vulcan rockets to the launch sites (Bollinger)

Published May 9, 2024 3:12 PM by The Maritime Executive


The U.S. merchant marine is going to get its second “rocket ship,” literally a vessel specially designed to transport rockets from the manufacturing facility to the launch pad. United Launch Alliance (ULA), a company headquartered in Colorado that provides launch services, contracted with Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana, and Bristol Harbor Group in Bristol, Rhode Island, to design, oversee, and build the new ship.

Construction has just begun on the 356-ft-long ship to be named SpaceShip at Bollinger’s shipyard located in Amelia, Louisiana. Delivery to ULA is expected in January 2026. Bristol Harbor Group, a naval architecture and marine engineering firm, will oversee the design and build phases of the project with Bollinger.

“Over the next year, ULA will be doubling its launch rate capacity in support of our Amazon customer and to ensure timely deliveries of the rockets to the launch site, we needed to build a second ship to support our transportation needs,” said Chris Ellerhorst, ULA’s vice president of the Kuiper Program. 

Established in 2019 by Amazon, Project Kuiper is an initiative to increase global broadband access through a constellation of 3,236 satellites in low Earth orbit. ULA is the launch provider with 38 missions scheduled using the company’s new Vulcan rocket. Vulcan, which made its first launch in January 2024, is the successor to the well-known Delta IV Heavy Rocket from ULA. The company reported as of January that it had sold more than 70 Vulcan launches, both to Amazon and multiple national security space launch missions.


RocketShip was the first vessel ULA built to transport its components to the launch site (ULA)


Built in 2000, the 312-foot (95-meter) RocketShip is a unique RoRo cargo ship. It can carry the entire Delta IV including three boosters, the second stage, and the payload fairings. The 4,700 dwt vessel has a stern ramp for loading and is capable of both ocean travel and inland river access to the company’s plant in Decatur, Alabama. They highlight the ship travels over 8,800 miles during 23 days to carry rockets to Vandenburg Air Force Base in California or 1,700 miles over eight days to the launch facility at Port Canaveral, Florida. 

RocketShip in 2011 started carrying Atlas V stages and recently transported Vulcan Centaur stages. It has a crew of 16 and has a helipad on the top deck.


Vulcan rocket components loaded on RocketShip (ULA)


“We’re proud to continue our partnership with ULA in support of their increasing capabilities and launch capacity,” said Ben Bordelon, President and CEO of Bollinger Shipyards. “We look forward to beginning work on SpaceShip to ensure delivery of Vulcan rockets from the factory to the launch pad.”

The second ship will be larger than the first to accommodate the new rockets. ULA highlights it will enable the enterprise transportation capacity of four Vulcan launch vehicles across two voyages to either the East or West Coast. As with the RocketShip, SpaceShip will be registered in the United States.