Engineering:Omega (rocket)

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Omega, stylized as "OmegA", is a launch vehicle in development by Northrop Grumman as an NSSL replacement program intended for national security and commercial satellites.[1]

Omega is similar to the defunct Ares I and Liberty projects, both of which consisted of a five segment Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) and a cryogenic second stage. Ares I would have combined a five-segment SRB with a J-2X powered second stage, while Liberty would have used a five-segment SRB with the core stage of the European Ariane 5 as a second stage. By comparison, Omega consists of Space Shuttle-derived solid stages with a cryogenic upper stage provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne[2] (replacing earlier plans to use an upper stage provided by Blue Origin).[3] It is intended to be launched from Kennedy Space Center LC-39B or Vandenberg Air Force Base SLC-2.[4]

Omega is proposed as a vehicle to launch national security satellites for the United States Air Force, and could launch other government and commercial payloads, including to geostationary transfer orbit. Crewed spacecraft could also be launched, just as the predecessor Ares I and Liberty rockets, which were designed to launch the Orion space capsule.[5]

Development was to start once the Air Force reached a funding decision. In October 2018, the Air Force announced that Northrop Grumman was awarded $792 million for initial development of the Omega launch vehicle.[6]


The Orbital ATK's Logo

In January 2016, Orbital ATK (now Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems) was one of two companies awarded funds by the United States Air Force to develop technologies to eliminate dependency on the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine.[7] The award was worth an initial $46.9 million, with an option for up to $180.2 million total. This is to be matched by $31.1 million initially, and up to $124.8 million in company funds if all options of the contract are exercised. The contract would fund the development of three technologies in support of the Omega rocket, then called Next Generation Launcher: the GEM-63XL strap-on booster, the Shuttle-derived Common Booster Core and an extendable nozzle for the BE-3U upper stage engine. A previous effort, funded by NASA, demonstrated the technology for a composite motor case for Shuttle-derived boosters to replace the metal motor cases used during the Space Shuttle program.[8]

In May 2016, Orbital ATK revealed their plans for the Next Generation Launcher, including the configuration and the intended business case.[4] In addition to relying on Shuttle-derived boosters, the Next Generation Launcher intends to make use of existing launch infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), including the Vehicle Assembly Building used by the Space Shuttle, with the possibility of polar orbit launches occurring from Vandenberg Air Force Base. NASA began looking for commercial users to operate unused space within the Vehicle Assembly Building in June 2015, and by April 2016, it was announced that Orbital ATK was in negotiations to lease High Bay 2.[9] Orbital ATK claimed that a minimum of 5-6 launches per year would be required to make the rocket profitable. Full development and introduction will be dependent on both demand and funding from the US Air Force. A final "go/no-go decision" to proceed with full development and introduction of the Next Generation Launcher is planned to take place between late 2017 and early 2018.[10][needs update]

In April 2017, Orbital ATK revealed that Omega would be launched from pad 39B at KSC, sharing launch facilities and mobile transporter with the NASA Space Launch System (SLS). The rocket would compete for USAF national security launches and NASA missions. There would be multiple configurations of the launch system, with multiple stages.[11]

In April 2018, Orbital ATK announced that Next Generation Launcher would be named Omega. Additionally, they revealed the selection of the RL-10C engine over Blue Origin's BE-3U competitor.[12] The Intermediate configuration, with a Castor 600 first stage, increased payload to GTO from 8,500 kilograms (18,700 lb) to 10,100 kilograms (22,300 lb). The Castor 1200-powered Heavy configuration increased GEO payload from 7,000 kilograms (15,000 lb) to 7,800 kilograms (17,200 lb).[13] In October 2018, Omega was awarded a Launch Services Agreement worth $791,601,015 to design, build and launch the first Omega rockets.[14]

In late May 2019, while conducting a static fire test of the first stage SRB, an anomaly occurred resulting in the destruction of the SRB nozzle (but not the stage itself).[15]

Multiple configurations

The rocket will have two basic configurations, an intermediate and a heavy launch. The intermediate version will have a two segment, shuttle derived solid rocket booster (SRB) first stage with a liquid hydrogen fueled upper stage. The heavy configuration will be a three-stage vehicle, including a 4-segment SRB first stage, a single segment SRB second stage, and the same cryogenic upper stage. Additional versions are projected to add additional SRBs as side boosters. The SDLV SRBs are to share avionics suites with other Orbital ATK rockets to reduce costs.[11]

See also

  • Ares I, a proposed Constellation program rocket based on an SDLV SRB-derived first stage and a Saturn V-derived J-2X based second stage
  • Liberty (rocket), a proposed rocket based on an SDLV SRB-derived first stage and Ariane 5-derived Vulcain 2 based second stage


  1. "Orbital ATK". Retrieved 17 April 2018. 
  2. Erwin, Sandra; Berger, Brian (16 April 2018). "Orbital ATK selects Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL10C for newly christened OmegA rocket" (in en-US). 
  3. Irene Klotz (24 May 2016). "Orbital planning new rocket to compete for U.S. military launches". Reuters. Yahoo Finance. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Clark, Stephen (27 May 2016). "Details of Orbital ATK’s proposed heavy launcher revealed". Spaceflight Now. 
  5. "General James B. Armor". The Space Show. Episode 2804. 31 October 2016.
  6. Erwin, Sandra (2018-10-10). "Air Force awards launch vehicle development contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, ULA -" (in en-US). 
  7. Mike Gruss (13 January 2016). "Orbital ATK, SpaceX Win Air Force Propulsion Contracts". 
  8. Jason Rhian (7 December 2013). "One-on-One with ATK's Charlie Precourt about composite materials and NASA's Space Launch System". SpaceFlight Insider. 
  9. Stephen Clark (21 April 2016). "Orbital ATK eyes Kennedy Space Center as home of potential new launcher". Spaceflight Now. 
  10. Jeff Foust (10 March 2017). "Orbital ATK expects decision on new rocket by early 2018". SpaceNews. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 James Dean (6 April 2017). "Orbital ATK optimistic about proposed KSC rocket". Florida Today. 
  12. "Orbital ATK Twitter". 17 April 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2018. 
  13. "Orbital ATK Next Generation Launch System Completes Major Milestones". 21 February 2018. Retrieved 17 April 2018. 
  14. Sandra Erwin (10 October 2018). "Air Force Awards Launch Vehicle Development Contracts to Blue Origin Northrop Grummand ULA". Space News. 
  15. Emre Kelly (30 May 2019). "Anomaly after Northrop Grumman successfully test fires Omega rocket in Utah". Florida Today. 

External links

Preceded by
Single-stick SRB-based SDLV
Succeeded by