Virginia-based global aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman said on 30 May it had “successfully” completed a full-scale static fire test of the OmegA rocket – which it is developing for national security missions – in Promontory, Utah.
During the test, the craft’s first stage motor fired for approximately 122 seconds, producing more than two million pounds of maximum thrust—roughly the equivalent to that of eight-and-a-half jumbo jets – according to Northrop Grumman.
The company said that the test verified the performance of the motor’s ballistics, insulation and joints as well as control of the nozzle position. A full-scale static fire test of OmegA’s second stage is planned for this autumn, the company said.
The OmegA rocket’s design “leverages flight proven technologies from Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus, Minotaur and Antaresrockets as well as the company’s interceptors, targets and strategic rockets”.
Northrop Grumman’s vehicle 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 thousands of jobs across the country in its supply chain.
In 2018, the US Air Force awarded Northrop Grumman a US$792 Launch Service Agreement contract to complete the development of the OmegA rocket and the required launch sites with a projected launch date sometime in 2021.
The 2015 National Defense Authorization Act specified that a domestic next-generation rocket propulsion system “shall be developed by not later than 2019”, a deadline that Northrop Grumman said believes it will meet based on the reported success of the 30 May test.
“The OmegA rocket is a top priority and our team is committed to provide the US Air Force with assured access to space for our nation’s most critical payloads,” Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager of flight systems for Northrop Grumman, said in a statement. “We committed to test the first stage of OmegA in spring 2019, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
“Congratulations to the entire team on today’s successful test,” Kent Rominger, OmegA vice president at Northrop Grumman, added. “OmegA’s design using flight-proven hardware enables our team to meet our milestones and provide an affordable launch system that meets our customer’s requirements and timeline.”
However, at a new conference following the test, Rominger reportedly told journalists that there was an anomaly seen near the end of the test as sparks and burning debris came out of the rocket’s nozzle. Noting that rocket engines are tested at both high and low temperatures, he said that this test was at a high temperature of 90 degrees “so you get a little bit higher thrust”.
“It appears that everything worked very well. At the very end when the engine was tailing off, we observed the aft exit cone, maybe a portion of it, doing something a little strange that we need to go further look into,” he added.
A large plume of black smoke seen during the test was normal, explained Rominger, who would allegedly not confirm whether a piece or pieces of the aft exit cone came apart during the test. He reiterated that the company would have to “dig into all that data [and] analyze it to see what happened” before coming to any definitive conclusions.
Michael Sanjume, chief of the Launch Enterprise Acquisition Division at the Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, said that the Air Force would work with Northrop Grumman to analyze the data, a process that Rominger said would not affect the planned schedule for a full-scale static fire test of OmegA’s second stage later in the year.
Live footage of the test can be found here.