The US Air Force has announced that it will be making up to three awards for funding in regards to the OmegA rocket. The rocket is set for a first-time launch in 2021 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Right now, Orbital ATK is working closely with the Air Force on the project, however, they are in for some competition.
So far several companies are competing for what may as well be a pot of gold being offered by the Air force. Aerojet, Blue Origin, United Launch Alliance, and SpaceX are among the most well known names interested in receiving the government support for the project.
Two solid-fuel rocket motors have been chosen as power sources for the first and second stage of the OmegA launcher. An RL10 engine from Aerojet Rocketdyne has been selected for the upper stage of OmegA, an engine which has made over 500 flights into space over the past half century. The RL10 selected for the OmegA, however, is a new version which will include a 3D-printed injector assembly.
According to the vice president of Orbital ATK’s OmegA program, the motors rocket motors that will be used, based on posters designed by Orbital ATK for the shuttle, will be much lighter in weight and easier to manufacture as well. The rocket itself will be made in two generic versions. Intermediate and heavy.
Castor 600, the two-part core stage, will generate over 2 million pounds of liftoff thrust. The heavier version, Castor 1200, will be equipped with a four-part motor, with a launch thrust of over 3 million pounds. Both the intermediate and heavy versions will contain a Castor 300 as the second stage motor as well as the capacity to add-on an additional half-dozen rocket boosters in order to blast off into space with much heavier loads.
The intermediate version will be able to lift between almost 11,000 and 22,500 pounds. The heavier version will be capable of lifting a bit less, between 11,600 and slightly over 17,000 pounds. Very similar to the payloads of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rockets.
In the case that Orbital ATK does win another piece of the Air Force funding, they will have all the financing they need to finish developing the solid-fueled core stage as planned, as well as finalize preparations for ground testing sometime in 2019. As of right now, the Air Force plans on selecting two providers next year, allowing the US military branch to work closely with two companies with the ability to fill all of their orbital needs.