Orbital ATK Unveils OmegA Rocket

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

DULLES, Virginia, 16 April 2018 (Orbital ATK PR) — During the 34th annual Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Orbital ATK (NYSE: OA), a global leader in aerospace and defense technologies, today provided a detailed update on the important progress being made on its Next Generation Launch System.

The company reaffirmed its commitment to the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program for national security space missions with the announcement of the name of the rocket, OmegA, and the selection of its upper stage propulsion system. As one of the company’s largest strategic investments, OmegA will provide intermediate- to heavy-class launch services for Department of Defense, civil government and commercial customers beginning in three years.

“Orbital ATK is very excited to partner with the U.S. Air Force to develop OmegA, our new EELV-class launch vehicle,” said Scott Lehr, President of Orbital ATK’s Flight Systems Group. “Our OmegA rocket provides the best combination of performance, affordability and reliability to support the full range of our customers’ mission requirements. Based on our experience of producing more than 430 launch vehicles over the last 35 years, we have the rigorous processes, operational discipline and oversight transparency that are expected by our U.S. government customers. And with the industrial resources and financial capabilities of a $5 billion revenue company, Orbital ATK is fully committed to meeting the technical and schedule requirements of this important program.”

OmegA rocket (Credit: Orbital ATK)

Over the last three years, Orbital ATK and the U.S. Air Force have together invested more than $250 million in developing the OmegA rocket, and the company has committed to an even larger additional investment to complete its development and certification. Orbital ATK is already building major propulsion and structural elements with a program workforce of about 500 employees. OmegA is on schedule to complete propulsion system ground tests in 2019 and to conduct its first launch in 2021.

The rocket configuration consists of Orbital ATK-built first and second solid rocket stages, strap-on solid boosters and a cryogenic liquid upper stage. After careful consideration, Orbital ATK recently selected Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10C to be OmegA’s upper stage propulsion engine.

“The RL10 has provided reliable upper stage propulsion for more than five decades and we look forward to continuing that legacy with Orbital ATK and its OmegA rocket,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “By selecting the RL10, Orbital ATK is able to leverage investments made by the U.S. Air Force and others to build resilient space launch capabilities for our nation.”

Orbital ATK launch vehicles (Credit: Orbital ATK)

“The RL10 has an extensive flight history and provides a low-risk, affordable engine with outstanding performance,” said Mike Pinkston, Deputy General Manager of Orbital ATK’s Launch Vehicles Division. “OmegA is a robust all-American launch system with its entire design based on flight-proven technologies and common components from Orbital ATK’s diversified lineup of rockets and propulsion systems.”

Orbital ATK has a long history of launching critical payloads for the Department of Defense, NASA and other customers with the company’s Pegasus®, Minotaur and AntaresTM space launch vehicles as well as a wide array of strategic missile interceptors and targets in support of critical national security launch programs.

“We currently have 10 launch vehicle product lines that are in active production and operations for our government and commercial customers, leveraging the efforts of one of the industry’s most experienced launch vehicle development and operations teams,” said Pinkston. The company has built and delivered about 160 space and strategic launch vehicles and approximately 275 target vehicles in the past 35 years, with current annual production rates totaling about 20 vehicles per year.

Approximately 500 employees are currently working on OmegA, a number that is expected to grow to about 1,000 people over the next 18 months. The company’s development team is working on the program in Arizona, Utah, Mississippi and Louisiana, with launch integration and operations planned at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The program will also support hundreds of jobs across the country in its supply chain.

The next phase of the OmegA program is expected to begin when the U.S. Air Force awards Launch Services Agreements in mid-2018, which will include the remaining development and verification of the vehicle and its launch sites. After initial flights of its intermediate configuration in 2021, OmegA will be certified for operational EELV missions starting in 2022 with initial heavy configuration flights beginning in 2024.

  • Ignacio Rockwill

    This press release is kinda begging for snark…

    First, the RL-10 is a lot of things, affordable is not one of them. It’s famously expensive.

    Second, this press release could have spent 5 minutes with a copy editor – some sloppy repeats of information. It’s like two interns wrote separate press releases, pasted them into the same document, and posted it.

    I wonder if they’ll design the LOX/LH2 stage themselves. Liquid 3rd stage should give them good orbit insertion accuracy (Antares uses a solid upper stage which is stupid)…which may or may not matter after your payload gets scrambled by 2.5 stages of solid rockets.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    This proposal is so bad and so poorly suited to the actual launch market over the next 10 years, it’s hard to know where to start. Better name, Amiga.

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Imagine as the Boeing 707 starts flying, demonstrating the economics of narrow body jet transport, your boss says: “Lets build a brand new Douglas DC-7 type transport, we’re doubling down on propellers baby”.

  • Pete Zaitcev

    Easy. Imagine a Senator who says: “Our small military drones use propeller technology, so we need to preserve our industrial capabilty… by buying these products build with outwardly similar, but actually completely different propeller technology”. Presto!

  • ThomasLMatula

    The “Stick” is back and is bigger than ever 😊

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    I think this system was hinted at in “Planet of the Apes”, TOS. Look.

  • redneck

    Dee Return of Der Griffinschaft, Ya.

  • Michael Halpern

    Another thing that that famously isn’t affordable are large segmented SRBs

  • SamuelRoman13

    A lot of launches will only use 2 stages. 2 segments so 1million lbs thrust per segment=2million lb thrust 1st stage. the Castor 600, 600 refers to the weight in thousands of lbs. The 2nd stage is a 12’D. segment also. But has a longer burn time and less thrust. Since F9 is around 1.7million lbs thrust, this rocket should be able to do the same missions. Even if they do not get a launch from somebody, they already have a sat. refurbishing mission. They can offer a complete package, launcher and sat. and control. Reuse is better I think, but SpaceX has not lowered their prices much. There are estimates of how much Shuttle SRBs cost NASA. Might be able to estimate how much this rocket will cost.

  • Larry J

    It isn’t the Stick, it’s the Corndog!

  • Michael Halpern

    Spacex has to recoup reuse investment and has no reason to significantly lower prices right now, they have no real competition that is comparable and the they have considerable backlog in their manifest.

  • Michael Halpern

    Maybe, maybe not, Orbital ATK/Northrup already produce a good amount of solid motors, if anything would be chosen for that purpose it’s Vulcan, though if a high energy density easily storable liquid green monopropellant or a practical large hybrid is developed, they may be able to get rid of large solids all together.

  • Michael Halpern

    The anteres solid upper is for 2 reasons 1 they already had it in production, they are actually common in ICBMs, 2 it just goes to LEO, higher mass ratio and twr enables more payload to lower orbits

    Its mainly reason #1 though

  • Mr Snarky Answer

    Actually. there won’t be “a lot” of launches of this vehicle under any configuration.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The list is very short for a propellant that can be kept for years in a pretty wide range of conditions while being on alert, can be put into ships, subs, trucks, trains, you name it, and be ready to launch with zero pre-prep from the propellant point of view. We won’t pry solid propellant from the military’s grasp any time soon.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, especially as they are using their profits to build the BFR. $10 million to launch 300,000 lbs ($33/lb) to LEO and beyond will be a very hard price point to beat 🙂

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Disagree with most of the comments. The OmegA could work with one or two flights a year flying out of Kennedy. Since the components are used in other launchers with the possible exception of the HydroLox upper stage. Which look a lot like the 5 meter diameter Delta IV DCSS.

    The major expenditures will be to build a simplified mobile launch platform and outfit a high bay in the VAB.

    Interesting the OmegA HydroLox stage with one RL-10 could revived the Antares launcher by replacing the crappy solid motor upper stage. Greatly expending it’s flight capabilities from the current limited LEO role.

    However IMO the OmegA is variable only if both the SLS and Vulcan is around for OATK to get cheap shared components.

  • Michael Halpern

    In addition to Starlink, development and minor f9 s2 and fairing improvements mostly in the recovery and reuse goals, apparently from a Musk tweet, they are tentatively planning on using a hot helium ballon to slow decent for upper stages, there is also a meantioned possibility of stretching the upper stage, being the easiest way to increase preformance. However the f9 improvements are likely minor secondary path projects

  • Michael Halpern

    The list is also short for propellants that fail as spectacularly or are as expensive as large solids. If someone figures out a practical large hybrid without burn modifiers, having the oxidizer being cycled will not be as big of a deal, it will be safer to transport as without the oxidizer its inert and they have the potential to be more useful and less expensive, making it easier to maintain supply

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    All true, but the past 60 years has demonstrated a more than acceptable safety record. The Navy even learned how to deal with the crazy mix used on Polaris. That was a crazy solid fuel to work with.

  • Michael Halpern

    It also has demonstrated what can happen to safety and reliability if production lines don’t evolve, look at Russia’s recent failure rate if you want an example of the dangers of stagnated technology

  • ThomasLMatula

    Actually the USAF resisted the KC-135 at first because it believed propeller driven transports and tankers were more effective…

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    The Russians have never been big on solids. They have a long history of liquid ICBMs and SLBMs, even IRBMs. Topol is the big exception, but that was a smaller portion of their force. We’ve been all solids since the 60’s with the strap on boosters for Titan and Shuttle keeping the production lines open. Our experience base with solids is much more in depth than the Russians. I know folks with work with alternative oxidizers like HAN and who work with hybrid rockets. The performance is just not there, and it solves few problems except accidental ignition. You still have all the engineering problems of a solid to solve.

  • Michael Halpern

    Doesn’t matter their rocket technology in general is degraded from complacency

  • passinglurker

    Looks more like a q-tip than a corndog…

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Which was a point I wanted to make but did not want to go on for so long.

    Having that oxidizer right there next to the fuel really helps for small munitions. Can you imagine a hybrid stinger, or air to air missile, or TOW? Having that synergy between small arms all the way up to ICBMs and space launch means a lot.

    Overcoming the inertia of solid propellant is going to take about the same effort used to develop solids to where they are today.

  • Michael Halpern

    It doesn’t mean that much, actually, because of manufacturing and engineering concerns unique to large srms, if you want more synergy try to promote Estes a bit.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It actually means quite a bit. Go look up what happened to the price of strap on boosters for Atlas V after shuttle production shut down. A similar price hike happened with small arms batching. The demise of STS had ripple effect all the way down the solids industry. There was a hiccup when United Tech’s Chemical Division was shutdown after EELV came online and Titan strapons were finished.

  • Michael Halpern

    Then they might have to use Nitrus oxide and switch gradually over to hybrids, still they will be resistant to chain misfire

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Nitrus has a horrid Isp and ignition is a real problem. In a hybrid can you get it to react fully with the fuel? I’d bet lunch that a nitrus hybrid runs fuel lean and suffers a lot of incomplete combustion throwing a lot of unburnt fuel out the back end.

  • Michael Halpern

    If its in a smaller weapon it doesn’t matter

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It matters more when the weapons has to be small. On a small weapon you want a high Isp and high propellant density. You want high impulse in a small mass, so high Isp. 🙂 But as I corrected myself Nox hybrids can perform on that metric.

  • Michael Halpern

    Hybrids can be pretty dense depends on solid component

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    They can be, but the oxidizers are not except LOX and H2O2. I’ll bet a hybrid can have some great specific density if it uses H2O2.

  • Michael Halpern

    true, but if it doesn’t significantly impact usefulness, good enough is pretty good if it ends up significantly less expensive, operating costs are always a big concern, the new stealth destroyers apparently dont have a decided main gun yet because the original ammunition of choice was too expensive (quite literally a million dollars a shot)

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    It matters significantly when you’re talking SLBMs, air to air missiles, and MANPADS.

  • passinglurker

    Not exactly the SRM segments used in Omega are different(read cheaper, more powerful, more efficient, less vibrations) from the classic shuttle SRB’s used on SLS at best the two just share launch pad costs.

  • Michael Halpern

    if it can get the job done it doesn’t

  • Agreed. While it might not have the pizzazz of some new space darlings, there’s evidence of a solid business case behind it. If they can cross sell GEM 63s with Vulcan and SRBs with SLS, they’ll set themselves up nicely. Selling your own launch vehicle a la carte to other groups sure seems like a good way to get some economies of scale.

    If this works out for OATK, then NG got them cheap!

  • What design feature(s) lead to the reduced vibration? Is it the HTPB, grain design, composite case or something else?

  • Michael Halpern

    One advantage other than cost or safety hybrids have over solids is that they can be throttled, this gives more options to confuse or overwhelm defense systems and makes it easier to put multiple flight profiles in the same system for different uses without hardware modification.

  • passinglurker

    Ares used 5 segments, omega uses 2 and then 1 smaller rocket at any one time means less shakes. Anything else to attribute will be subtler.

  • windbourne

    SpaceX developed the reuse on their dime. As such, it makes sense that they recover their money and more.
    As it is, I would say putting up 20 tonnes for $40M makes that a heck of a deal.

    Hopefully with Block 5, and maybe recovery of second stage, along with fairings, will get them to drop to 30 Million.

  • Michael Halpern

    Currently still $62m

  • Michael Halpern

    Their plans for second stage recovery are interesting, they plan to use a balloon, to slow the decent

  • windbourne

    That is 62M for expendable.
    It is 40 something for reuse. No?

  • Michael Halpern

    90m for expendable

  • windbourne

    hold on;
    https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/02/three-years-of-sls-development-could-buy-86-falcon-heavy-launches/
    along with both wikis.
    Launch to LEO.

    For FH expendable and 63.8 tonnes, it is $150 M.
    For FH reusable (3 cores recover) and ~25 tonnes, it is 90M.
    For F9 expendable and 22.8 tonnes, it is $ 62M.
    for F9 reusable and 18 tonnes, it is????
    Appears to be negotiated for f9 reusable. Kind of weird.

  • Michael Halpern

    From spacex website it seems 62m for reuse