COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Orbital ATK’s new rocket launcher has a new name — the OmegA — and a newly selected engine, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10, to power its third stage, the company announced Monday.
The OmegA, formerly known as the Next Generation Launch system, will come up against SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rockets in the Evolved Expandable Launch Vehicle, or EELV, contest for the U.S. Air Force’s new launch system.
“The RL10 has extensive flight history, provides a low-risk, affordable engine with outstanding performance. It is one of the most pedigreed and successful rocket engines of all time, and it’s very low risk,” Scott Lehr, president of Orbital ATK’s flight systems group, said during an event at the Space Symposium.
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The company had already disclosed that the Castor 600 would power the first stage of the intermediate-class OmegA, while the Castor 1200 picked the first stage engine in the heavy version. Castor 300 motors would power the second stage, but Orbital waited to wrap up trade studies before picking its third stage engine.
That motor, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10C-5-1, is a new variant of the RL10C-1, a liquid hydrogen- and liquid oxygen-propelled motor, which made its first flight in December 2014. The biggest differentiator between the RL10C-5-1 and its predecessors will be an injector assembly built using 3-D printing, Aerojet stated in a news release.
“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 President and CEO 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.”
During the Monday event, Orbital also revealed the rocket’s new name — OmegA — which Lehr said “reflects the fact that this particular launch vehicle is our ultimate launch vehicle. It completes our rocket family lineup from the small all the way now to heavy or EELV-class rockets.”
Lehr said the company would fire OmegA’s core propulsion for the first time in the summer of 2019. Qualification tests of upper stage and avionics proceed up to first flight in 2021; and after two certification flights, it will be certifiable for EELV missions.
The Air Force is set to award “launch service agreements” to up to three companies this summer, which will establish public-private partnerships where the government and vendors will cooperatively fund new rockets. The service will ultimately downselect to two launch providers.
Because SpaceX and ULA are already executing the national security space launch mission, they are seen as the likely winners of the contract. However, the EELV contract is a huge opportunity for Orbital, which has sunk more than $200 million into developing its rocket as part of a joint agreement with the Air Force.
Orbital executives have stressed that their expertise gives them a leg up in providing a low-cost, low-risk launch system.
“OmegA really represents the best of what we do at Orbital ATK. It incorporates the best of our core capabilities: our launch vehicle technologies, propulsion, our large composite structures and avionics,” Lehr said. “All of this equates to low cost and affordability.”
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.