Sunday, July 14, 2024

Northrop Grumman selects Firefly Aerospace to develop Antares rocket update

The U.S. company Northrop Grumman and startup Firefly Aerospace have joined forces to provide an American-built first-stage upgrade for the Antares rocket and a new medium launch vehicle to serve commercial, civil, and national security space launch markets.

Its workhorse Antares rocket currently flies with Russian-built RD-181 engines. Due to the continuing war in Ukraine, Russia halted all sales of its rocket engines to the United States in March this year.

“Through our collaboration, we will first develop a fully domestic version of our Antares rocket, the Antares 330, for Cygnus space station commercial resupply services, followed by an entirely new medium-class launch vehicle,” said Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager, launch and missile defense systems, Northrop Grumman. “Northrop Grumman and Firefly have been working on a combined strategy and technical development plan to meet current and future launch requirements.”

Firefly’s propulsion technology utilizes the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, which minimizes launch site upgrades. The new Antares 330 will be outfitted with seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines and leverage its composites technology for the first stage structures and tanks. At the same time, Northrop Grumman provides its proven avionics and software, upper-stage structures, and Castor 30XL motor, as well as proven vehicle integration and launch pad operations. This new stage will also significantly increase Antares mass to orbit capability.

“Firefly prides itself on being a disrupter in the new space industry, and collaborating with a proven space pioneer like Northrop Grumman will help us continue that disruption,” said Peter Schumacher, interim CEO of Firefly.

The Antares rocket is a vehicle with an optimal third stage that provides low-Earth orbit launch capability for payloads weighing up to 8,000 kg. Today the rocket is primarily used to support the company’s company’s Commercial Resupply Services contract with NASA.

The upgraded Antares 330 could be ready by 2024. Once completed, it will allow Antares to launch payloads up to 10,500 kilograms into orbit – this is significantly more than its current capacity. The Antares 330 performance upgrade will enable Northrop Grumman to continue to support the company’s current contracts while planning for future mission capabilities.