Orbital ATK completes development milestones in Next Generation Launch program
Orbital ATK announced on April 3, 2017, that the Dulles, Virginia-based company has made progress developing its next generation launch vehicle. Over the last 18 months, it has been developing a booster with advanced solid rocket propulsion to be used in intermediate- and large-class vehicles.
In 2015, Orbital ATK was awarded an Air Force contract by the Space and Missile Systems Center‘s Launch Systems Directorate.
According to a news release from Orbital ATK, the company’s Flight Systems Group completed design reviews as well as facility upgrades and tooling fabrication. The company is now in the early stages of making development hardware for this Next Generation Launch Vehicle (NGL) system.
The NGL is being able to send payloads weighing approximately 12,125–18,739 pounds (5,500–8,500 kilograms) geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) and 11,574–15,432 pounds (5,250–7,000 kilograms) geostationary equatorial orbit (GEO).
The NGL system is being developed to use modular designs capable of lofting national security payloads, commercial and science satellites too large to use the company’s current fleet of Pegasus, Minotaur, and Antares space launch vehicles. NGL rockets would be capable of launching from both East and West Coast launch sites.
“The NGL program is a great example of how industry and government can work together to develop an American launch system to support national security space launch requirements,” Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group stated via a release. “Orbital ATK is well-positioned to introduce an intermediate- and large-class family of launch vehicles by leveraging the strengths of the merged company to achieve low-cost assured space access for current and future national security payloads and other satellites.”
The NGL vehicles will use multiple solid motor stages as well as a single liquid upper stage. The 500 series configuration will use CASTOR 600 and 300 solid rocket motors for its first and second stages. The third stage will be cryogenic. Orbital ATK noted that the solid stages, which measure about 12 feet (4 meters) in diameter, draws upon the company’s experience with NASA’s Space Shuttle.
According to a report from Space News, Mike Laidley, vice president of the NGL program, said that the company was evaluating a number of different engine options. These might include the Aerojet Rocketdyne-produced RL10 or Blue Origin’s BE-3U engine.
Orbital ATK has stated that it has completed critical design reviews for major elements of the solid propulsion stages of the rocket as well as preliminary vehicle-level and launch site infrastructure reviews.
Moreover, a 60,000-square-foot (5,574-square-meter) production building has been refurbished for use with the NGL. This includes the installation of automated tooling devices, cranes, and various other pieces of equipment needed to build large-diameter solid rocket motor casings.
“The Orbital ATK NGL team, which now numbers several hundred engineers and technicians, has made tremendous progress since late 2015. Building on this work, we are looking forward to providing the Air Force and other customers with a highly reliable and cost-effective launch system within the next four years,” Lehr said.
In 2018, the Air Force is expected to continue with the next phase of the program. This would involve a full vehicle and launch site development.
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