Northrop Grumman moves rockets from Russia and Ukraine with Firefly

Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket lifts off from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia on August 10, 2021 carrying a Cygnus spacecraft with cargo for the International Space Station.

Terry Zaperach/NASA Punches

Northrop Grumman is moving production of motors and structures for its Antares rockets to the US from Russia and Ukraine, a move that will have cascading effects throughout the space industry.

The aerospace giant said Monday it will move Antares production entirely to the US through a partnership with Texas-based Firefly Aerospace. Northrop Grumman had purchased Russian RD-181 engines to power the Antares 230+ series, and the main body of the rocket was manufactured by the Ukrainian state-owned company Yuzhmash.

The new arrangement primarily addresses the disruption in Antares manufacturing caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. But in addition to saving the Antares series of rockets, the cost-sharing deal also helps ensure that NASA’s cargo missions to the International Space Station continue to fly regularly and lends steam to Firefly’s plan to build a larger rocket called Beta.

Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace will jointly produce an upgraded version of the Antares rocket, to be known as the Antares 330. Northrop will provide the A330’s upper stage, avionics, software and launch site operations. Firefly will supply seven engines and build the A330’s largest airframe, the first-stage booster.

“Our goal is to launch the first A330 rocket in mid to late 2024,” Firefly interim CEO Peter Schumacher told CNBC.

The schedule still leaves a minimum gap of 12 months between the launch of the last 230+ and the debut of the 330. Northrop Grumman has been launching NASA cargo missions to the International Space Station about every six months, using Antares rockets and its spacecraft. space Cygnus. While the company has Antares rockets for two more payload missions, scheduled for this fall and spring 2023, Northrop Grumman director of launch vehicles Kurt Eberly told CNBC that the company bought three launches on Falcon rockets. 9 from SpaceX to continue flying Cygnus cargo missions.

“It’s very important to maintain the six-month cadence” for NASA, Eberly said, adding that the Antares 330 series will be larger and more powerful than the 230+.

A rendering of an Antares 330 rocket on its way to the launch pad.

Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace

The Northrop and Firefly partnership also has a long-term goal of building a new rocket, which the companies for now call the MLV, or medium launch vehicle.

The companies hope to introduce the MLV by the end of 2025, tapping into a part of the rocket market that Eberly says is underserved.. Northrop Grumman had been looking to replace the Antares entirely because the current Russia-dependent setup prohibited the company from bidding for launch contracts from the Pentagon, Eberly said. It also wasn’t competitively priced in the commercial market, he said.

Schumacher said Firefly has been working on the Northrop Grumman deal for about a year. Eberly added that the Russian invasion accelerated the partnership and “gave us additional momentum to continue.”

for firefly, The company’s short-term challenge is to reach orbit with the second launch of its Alpha rocket, after debut last year it failed mid-flight. Schumacher said Firefly completed a fuel milestone for the second Alpha launch on Monday, known as a wet dress rehearsal, with a hot fire truck test scheduled for later this week.

“We are planning our first launch window for that second flight, [which opens] on 9/11,” Schumacher said.

The company’s inaugural Alpha rocket launches from Vandenberg Space Force Base in California on September 2, 2021.

aerospace firefly

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