The alpha of the OmegA: Orbital ATK’s new rocket gains name
Dulles, Virginia-based Orbital ATK has announced the name of the company’s new, large-class rocket: OmegA. This new launch vehicle is meant for the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.
OmegA is designed to have the capacity to send some 22,266 pounds (10,100 kilograms) to a geosynchronous transfer orbit and up to 17,196 pounds (7,800 kilograms) to a geostationary equatorial orbit. Its first and second stages utilize solid rocket motors as well as strap-on solid boosters.
“Orbital ATK is very excited to partner with the U.S. Air Force to develop OmegA, our new EELV-class launch vehicle,” said Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group via a release issued by the company. “Our OmegA rocket provides the best combination of performance, affordability and reliability to support the full range of our customers’ mission requirements. Based on our experience of producing more than 430 launch vehicles over the last 35 years, we have the rigorous processes, operational discipline and oversight transparency that are expected by our U.S. government customers. And with the industrial resources and financial capabilities of a $5 billion revenue company, Orbital ATK is fully committed to meeting the technical and schedule requirements of this important program.”
On top of announcing the official name of this new rocket, Orbital ATK also said it had selected Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10C rocket engine to serve as the new launch vehicle’s upper stage engine.
“The RL10 has an extensive flight history and provides a low-risk, affordable engine with outstanding performance,” said Mike Pinkston, Deputy General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Launch Vehicles Division via a release issued by the company. “OmegA is a robust all-American launch system with its entire design based on flight-proven technologies and common components from Orbital ATK’s diversified lineup of rockets and propulsion systems.”
The naming of the rocket, as well as the selection of the RL10C engine for OmegA’s upper stage, was made at the 34th annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado. If everything goes as the rockets’ producer envisions, OmegA should provide intermediate to heavy-class launch services for the U.S. Department of Defense, civil government and commercial customers. It is hoped that these flights will begin in about three years.
Whereas other launch service providers are scaling down their operations and limiting the types of launch vehicles they offer, Orbital ATK has been diversifying its portfolio.
“We currently have 10 launch vehicle product lines that are in active production and operations for our government and commercial customers, leveraging the efforts of one of the industry’s most experienced launch vehicle development and operations teams,” Pinkston said.
OmegA is slated to undergo propulsion system ground tests some time next year (2019) with the rocket’s first flight currently set to take place in 2021. Visually similar to United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V series of rockets, OmegA is a new take on a classic design and is designed to leverage flight-proven systems.
“The RL10 has provided reliable upper stage propulsion for more than five decades and we look forward to continuing that legacy with Orbital ATK and its OmegA rocket,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “By selecting the RL10, Orbital ATK is able to leverage investments made by the U.S. Air Force and others to build resilient space launch capabilities for our nation.”
The RL10 uses cryogenic liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen as propellant, with some 500 of the rocket engines having flown in space to date.
OmegA will use the RL10C-5-1 version of the engine, which is derived from the RL10C-1, which has been service for about 3.5 years. While the RL10 might trace its legacy back decades, portions of it, including the engine’s injector assembly—which is produce using additive manufacturing, or as it is more commonly known, 3-D printing—were produced by and incorporate modern systems.
“The RL10 has an extensive flight history and provides a low-risk, affordable engine with outstanding performance,” said Mike Pinkston, Deputy General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Launch Vehicles Division. “OmegA is a robust all-American launch system with its entire design based on flight-proven technologies and common components from Orbital ATK’s diversified lineup of rockets and propulsion systems.”
While the names and systems are familiar to those within the aerospace industry, the processes of their production have been undertaken using modern methods and with a fresh take on how to utilize existing hardware.
“Having our RL10 engine selected to provide upper stage propulsion for a fourth launch vehicle reflects the confidence industry places in our product,” said Space Business Unit Senior Vice President Jerry Tarnacki. “It also confirms that the steps Aerojet Rocketdyne has been taking to make our products more competitive—such as incorporating 3-D printing to reduce production costs—are being welcomed in the marketplace.”
The next steps in OmegA’s development should take place in mid-2018 when the U.S. Air Force awards Launch Services Agreements. This process includes the verification and development of OmegA’s launch sites. At present, the first EELV flights are thought to take place in 2022, with the first flights of the rocket’s heavy configuration slated to take place in 2024.
Approximately $250 million has been invested over the course of the past three years to develop OmegA. The cost has been shared between the U.S. Air Force and Orbital ATK with the company stating it plans to invest even more for the new rocket’s development and certification.
Over the course of the past 3.5 decades, Orbital ATK has constructed and delivered some 160 space and strategic launch vehicles. On average, the company produces an estimated 20 vehicles annually including the Antares, Minotaur, Pegasus as well as components, spacecraft and subsystems on other launch vehicles.
Some 500 (a number which could grow to 1,000) employees are currently working on the new rocket. This is a multi-state project being worked on in Arizona, Utah, Mississippi and Louisiana. As is the case for most U.S. launch operations, flights are planned to take place from Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base located in California.
Video courtesy of Orbital ATK
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.