Northrop Grumman Corporation completed the first static or “stationary,” full-scale test of its next-generation OmegA space launch vehicle at its site in Promontory, Utah. The test involved OmegA’s first and most powerful stage, the CASTOR 600 (C600) aft solid rocket motor segment. Toward the end of the firing, the 12-foot-diameter and 80-foot-long C600 sustained a small explosion near the rocket nozzle.
The C600 fired for approximately 122 seconds, producing more than two million pounds of maximum thrust. Technicians also recorded characteristics like vibration, burn rate, component stress, case growth, and temperature through approximately 700 data channels, verifying the performance of the motor’s ballistics, insulation, joints, and position control of the vectorable nozzle.
Although Northrop Grumman officials acknowledged during a post-test press conference that the incident needs to be “looked into,” they stated that the thrust profile could be “very normal, nominal.” A following statement labeled the test a success and announced that OmegA is on track for its first test launch in 2021 and operational service in 2022.
The statement is in holding with the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that specified that a domestic next-generation rocket propulsion system “shall be developed by not later than 2019.”
“The first stage rocket motor is the heart of the OmegA vehicle,” says Paul Messer, OmegA first and second stage motor program manager, Northrop Grumman. “With the critical data from the static fire test, and the post-test inspections, we can qualify our products and ensure their reliability to our customers.”
The rocket, developed for the United States Air Force under the National Security Space Launch (NSSL), née Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program, is designed launch the service’s intermediate to heavy payloads for national security missions and science and commercial payloads for research agencies and industry customers. Last October, the U.S. Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a $792 million contract to complete detailed design and verification of OmegA and launch sites.
To reduce development time and leverage pre-existing infrastructure, the OmegA shares common propulsion, architecture, and avionics systems with current and future Northrop Grumman programs. The company claims that commonality between other Northrop Grumman and USAF launch vehicles should provide a cost savings of approximately $600 million in government spending on similarly configured rockets over the course of 10 years.
A static test of OmegA’s second stage is also slated for later this fall. The rocket, designated CASTOR 300 (C300), a single segment motor (versus the double segment C600). The tests will verify the performance for OmegA’s intermediate vehicle configuration, which will make up the majority of the anticipated flights beginning in 2021. Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, Calif. Will supply a RL10C engine for the vehicle’s upper stage propulsion system.
Like other EELVs, OmegA will operate from both east and west coast launch facilities.
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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include literally anything that has to do with space, past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology.
Contact him regarding any article or collaboration ideas by e-mail at email@example.com.