Northrop Grumman uses Firefly Aerospace technology in its de-Russian Antares – The Register

Northrop Grumman uses Firefly Aerospace technology in its de-Russian Antares – The Register

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is being felt at Northrop Grumman, forcing it to make alternative plans, which now include asking Firefly Aerospace to build the first stage of its Antares rocket.

Antares’ maiden flight was in 2013 with a first stage powered by two Aerojet AJ26 rocket engines. These engines, refurbished NK-33s originally built in the Soviet Union 40 years ago and then imported to the US in the 1990s by new owner Aerojet, failed during testing, followed by a launch failure in 2014.

The AJ26s were then retired and Northrop Grumman switched to RD-181 engines supplied by Russian NPO Energomash.

This may have seemed like a great idea over the past decade, but a first stage made in Ukraine and powered by Russian engines won’t ensure a stable supply chain in 2022 – for obvious reasons. While Northrop Grumman has enough first stages for two more launches, it will have to look elsewhere to launch its Cygnus freighter to the International Space Station (ISS). The company had said it was considering alternatives, and here we are.

Northrop Grumman has selected Firefly Aerospace to supply engines for its next generation Antares vehicle, the 330. Seven of the company’s Miranda engines will power the new first stage, which will utilize the company’s composite technology for its structure and tanks.

“This new stage will also significantly increase the orbital capability of Antares Masse,” said Northrop Grumman.

It’s a significant risk: Firefly has only managed one launch of its Alpha rocket so far, which ended in failure seconds after launch. A second launch attempt for the two-stage rocket is scheduled for August 2022. The company’s Beta launch vehicle is a significantly more powerful beast, using seven Miranda engines in its first stage and a single Viranda engine in its upper stage to send 13,000 kg into low Earth orbit. Quite an improvement over the Antares’ roughly 8,000 kg.

However, only the first stage will be exchanged for the Antares. The second stage is still powered by the Castor 30XL engine.

The deal is a bit lacking in detail, and Northrop Grumman will have a void to fill until the new launcher is ready. The next Cygnus freighters are scheduled to launch to the ISS in October and February. After that, the existing Antares stock will be exhausted.

After the failure of Antares in 2014, Atlas V was deployed to bring Cygnus to the ISS. However, with the rest of the Atlas V rockets in talks and their replacements (powered by Blue Origin BE-4 engines) yet to hit the skies, the US domestic alternative will be SpaceX’s Falcon 9.

According to Portal, three of Musk’s rockets have been booked to sustain the Cygnus launch in late 2023 and through 2024. ®