Northrop Grumman has not ruled out another try at national security space launch

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Any decision on whether to restart a rocket development will be driven by market opportunities

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. — A year after discontinuing the development of its OmegA rocket, Northrop Grumman is not completely ruling out a future attempt to get back in the national security launch market, company executives said Aug. 11.

“We do continue to trade different opportunities and different options for investing in future capabilities, and of course it’s very much market driven,” Kevin Richardson, Northrop Grumman’s director of launch vehicles business development, said during a meeting with reporters. 

Before it was acquired by Northrop Grumman, Orbital ATK in 2016 unveiled plans to develop a solid-fueled heavy lift launch vehicle intended for U.S. national security satellite launches, and in 2018 secured nearly $800 million in Air Force funding to support the project. 

The vehicle, named OmegA, consisted of solid rocket stages with an upper stage liquid engine provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne. Northrop Grumman in 2020 lost out to United Launch Alliance and SpaceX in Phase 2 of the National Security Space Launch (NSSL) program.

Richardson said national security remains the company’s main business but a decision on whether to restart a rocket development will be entirely driven by market opportunities. “That’s something that we’re actively trading, not only just across the national security space side of launch vehicles but across all the different payload classes as well as different orbital layers and orbital insertion points,” he said.

The next opportunity to compete for an NSSL contract would come in 2023 when the Space Force plans to seek bids for its Phase 3 launch procurement. The Space Force’s launch enterprise scheduled an industry day in Los Angeles later this month for early discussions on Phase 3 of NSSL. 

Jo Cangianelli, Northrop Grumman’s director of launch and missile defense, said company executives will attend the industry day and will be interested in hearing about the Space Force’s plans to select future launch services providers.  

“We’re going to look at what their intentions are,” said Cangianelli. Northrop Grumman will seek clarity on whether the Space Force is looking at “just extensions of the current contracts that they have today, or whether or not they’re going to be looking at something beyond that.”

“That’s the trading that we’re going to do in terms of the level of investment that’s required for for moving forward in that area,” said Cangianelli.

Industry analysts were not surprised that Northrop Grumman terminated the OmegA program after losing NSSL Phase 2 given the cost of maintaining a launch vehicle with no firm customers on the horizon. Jim McAleese, of McAleese & Associates, noted that most of Northrop Grumman’s profits in its space business come from intercontinental ballistic missiles, missile defense interceptors and solid rocket boosters.