Northrop Hopes Scalable Eagle Craft Will Land New Business

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WASHINGTON — Northrop Grumman Corp. has designed a new line of scalable spacecraft based on a standard payload adapter ring that served as the core of the Lunar Crate Observation and Sensing Satellite that NASA launched in 2009 on a collision course with the Moon.

Based on the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle Secondary Payload Adapter (ESPA), a rugged aluminum ring designed by the U.S. Air Force as a way of fitting up to six tiny satellites below an Atlas 5 or Delta 4 rocket’s primary payload, Northrop Grumman’s new Eagle product line offers three small and medium-size spacecraft buses that can carry payloads weighing between 85 kilograms and 450 kilograms, said David Bauer, business development manager for environmental systems at Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

“We’re taking an approach where we’re driving affordability through economies of scale and using a common architecture to cover a range of missions,” Bauer said. “We’ve looked at the market and taken a close look at anticipated missions and mission requirements and are applying this line of spacecraft to cover the range of missions in that market.”

The ESPA ring made its debut in March 2007, carrying four military microsatellites into orbit beneath the larger Orbital Express spacecraft. For the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) mission, Northrop Grumman transformed the ESPA ring into a fully functional science satellite that took advantage of excess lift capacity on the Atlas 5 that NASA booked for the primary payload, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

“The specific configurations are based on taking the LCROSS and other flight-proven designs to complete the scaling and adapting the LCROSS-specific design with the tailoring for those missions using flight-proven elements,” Bauer said.

The company’s Eagle-S spacecraft draws its heritage directly from LCROSS and forms the basis of the common architecture. It can carry an 86-kilogram payload and deliver 100 watts of power with a design service life of about one year, Bauer said.

The larger Eagle-1 and Eagle-2 satellite buses also incorporate the ESPA ring but draw on other Northrop Grumman heritage designs, including the T-200 series of low-cost spacecraft platforms that enabled NASA’s Total Ozone Mapping Spectrometer-Earth Probe, South Korea’s Kompsat and Taiwan’s Rocsat 1 to conduct missions that extended beyond their projected life, Bauer said.

“Those were all the same class, and using a common design architecture we fairly rapidly developed the spacecraft, which were also very successful, so we’re taking advantage of some of our experience in that arena and applying that as well,” he said.

Small enough to launch on a Space Exploration Technologies’ Falcon 1E rocket, Eagle-1 can accommodate a 200-kilogram payload and supply it with 200 watts of power. Eagle-2, sized to launch on the Falcon 9 and Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Minotaur 4 and Taurus XL rockets, can carry a 450-kilogram payload and deliver 900 watts of power, Bauer said.

Northrop Grumman’s Eagle family of spacecraft was picked by NASA in April for inclusion in the forthcoming third installment of its Rapid Spacecraft Acquisition catalog, a list of fixed-price satellite platforms available to any federal agency looking to trim mission costs and schedules.

Bauer said the company’s delivery schedule for the Eagle-S is 22 months; turnaround on Eagle-1 and Eagle-2 would require up to 36 months.

Northrop Grumman tends to build spacecraft and sensors for some of the nation’s biggest civil and military programs. But Bauer said the company is no stranger to smaller, more-affordable missions like LCROSS, which it built, integrated and tested in 26 months for NASA’s Mountain View, Calif.-based Ames Research Center under a $56 million contract.

“We achieved LCROSS on a very rapid schedule and at relatively low cost compared to other missions, so a lot of what we applied in getting those cost and schedule benefits on LCROSS are being applied to Eagle,” Bauer said.

Bauer said Northrop Grumman sees opportunity for the Eagle family of spacecraft in the prioritized list of proposed space science missions the National Academy of Sciences’ decadal survey committees are busy drafting to help guide NASA’s spending for the decade ahead.

“They are setting a certain op-tempo, if you will, that provides a well-defined road map of missions that we can then respond to, and that’s how we can look at the market down the line,” he said. “It basically provides an initial target market for us to see clearly what these upcoming missions look like and use that as a foundation where we can look at other customer needs so we can respond.”