Orbital ATK has high hopes that its Next Generation Launch system will get a funding contract from the U.S. Air Force. The Air Force is preparing to choose up to 3 companies for Launch Services Agreements. Orbital ATK’s Antares is its biggest orbital-class rocket. It is designed for medium-size payloads, making it ideal for NASA’s program to bring cargo to the International Space Station. The company’s Next Generation Launch system would more than double the payload-carrying ability of the Antares rocket. It would also allow Orbital ATK to put satellites into harder-to-reach orbits that are not covered by other launchers in the company’s fleet.
Next Generation Launch vice president Mike Laidley said they are confident that they are going to get selections for the next phase. They think that they provide the Air Force with a good opportunity to uphold their main goal of assured access to space.
Orbital ATK’s new rocket would feature solid-fueled rocket motors. The company’s engineers used composite materials instead of metallic casings for the shuttle-era motor, which will reduce its weight and make the rocket easier to build. According to Laidley, there is some automated winding equipment that is going to make it more efficient for them. He said that it is a chance to improve their processes and build the 12' diameter segmented launcher in an efficient manner.
Laidley said that they have been working to create a launch system that would support Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) mission requirements. According to him, they have been working on the project for almost two and a half years.
In 2016, Air Force gave funding to ULA, Orbital ATK, Aerojet Rocketdyne and SpaceX to develop propulsion technology that can power new rockets and replace the Russian RD-180 engine. Companies were required to spend some of their funds in the effort.
SpaceX’s spent some of the funds it received from the Air Force on its Raptor engine. ULA allocated a large part of its funding to Blue Origin. Aerojet Rocketdyne improved the design of its AR1 engine. Orbital ATK used the funds it received on the Next Generation Launch system.
The Air Force made a follow-up request for applications in October. The organization was looking for bids for government funding to assist launch companies in paying for their rockets through the EELV program. They will announce the Launch Services Agreements in the next few months to continue providing funding for up to three launch vehicles. Two providers will be chosen in late 2019. The two finalists will continue getting government funding support through the test flights of their rockets.