Northrop Grumman chooses Firefly for its Antares rocket to replace the Russian engines

The new rocket will launch payloads of up to 23,000 pounds into orbit.
Loukia Papadopoulos
An assembled Antares rocket in the Horizontal Integration Facility.jpg
An assembled Antares rocket in the Horizontal Integration Facility.

NASA/Wikipedia 

  • The firms will develop a fully domestic version of the Antares rocket.
  • No details have been given on the financing of the deal.
  • No details have been given about what the new rocket will look like.

It’s been a busy time for U.S. space company Northrop Grumman. In December of 2021, the firm won a 1.4 billion dollar contract for integrated missile defense to procure the United States Army with 160 so-called Integrated Battlefield Command Systems.

Many projects underway

Then in January of 2022, the company successfully conducted a validation ground test of its extended-length 63-inch Graphite Epoxy Motor. Finally, in March of 2022, SpaceX and Northrop Grumman announced they would join forces to service the ISS through 2026.

Now, the firm and Firefly Aerospace have announced that they will be jointly developing an American-built first-stage upgrade for the Antares rocket and a new medium launch vehicle, according to a press release by the firms published on Monday.

“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.”

There are many advantages to the new collaboration. For starters, Firefly’s propulsion technology utilizes the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, which minimizes launch site upgrades. The new Antares 330 will make use of seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines, while Northrop Grumman will provide its proven avionics and software, upper-stage structures, and Castor 30XL motor, as well as proven vehicle integration and launch pad operations. All this will result in an increased mass to orbit capability for the Antares rocket.

An upgraded rocket for 2024

“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 upgraded rocket could be ready by 2024, according to SpaceNews. Once completed, it will allow Antares to launch payloads of up to 23,000 pounds (10,500 kilograms) into orbit. This is significantly more than its current 17,800-pound (8,100 kg) capacity.

No financial details were provided by the firms for their agreement for the Antares 330, nor did either company offer information on what the new medium-lift rocket they will build will be like. However, Firefly has begun the development of its very own medium-lift rocket, called Beta, after testing its Alpha rocket.

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