More aerospace technology jobs are heading to Utah, assisting in the delivery of the internet to remote locations around the world. On June 8, Northrop Grumman announced that it had been awarded a multi-year contract worth more than $2 billion to manufacture solid rocket boosters for ULA’s (United Launch Alliance) Atlas 5 and Vulcan Centaur launch vehicles.
The contract is likely to be inked in the second quarter of 2022, according to Northrop Grumman’s CEO during a first-quarter result call in April. The contract is for the production of Graphite Epoxy Motor GEM 63 solid rocket boosters with a diameter of 63 inches and the extended length GEM 63XL. Orders for strap-on solid boosters are increasing at ULA to support upcoming deployments for Amazon’s Project Kuiper low-Earth orbit constellation as well as other customers.
ULA’s contract, according to a Northrop Grumman official, “provides numerous years of high-rate production, potentially prolonging work to the close of this decade and beyond.”
According to the representative, the company aims to produce around 75 motors annually, with the majority of them being GEM 63XL. Under a contract with ULA, the company began developing the GEM strap-on boosters in 2015.
In November 2020, the GEM 63 solid rocket booster flew for the first time on ULA’s NROL-101 mission. Four Atlas 5 launches have so far been supported by 13 GEM 63 boosters, with 9 more due to fly on 3 additional Atlas 5 deployments in 2022. Each booster adds 371,500 pounds of maximum thrust to the launch vehicle, and an Atlas 5 can have up to five boosters strapped on it.
The GEM 63XL was created for the Vulcan Centaur rocket, which has yet to take to the skies. Vulcan’s first flight is expected in late 2022, according to ULA. Each XL booster adds 463,249 pounds of thrust to the rocket, with up to six boosters being utilized on a single deployment for a heavy-lift mission.
The GEM solid rocket boosters are manufactured by Northrop Grumman at numerous locations in Utah. Upgrades are being planned, according to the spokeswoman, to meet the increased demand. “We’re still finalizing building plans, but the expansion will mostly occur at our Bacchus, Utah, location, with other enhancements occurring at our Clearfield and Promontory, Utah, locations.”