PROMONTORY, Box Elder County — Orbital ATK is vying to build the latest generation of rockets for the U.S. Air Force.
The Virginia-based company, with operations in Box Elder County, is working on the development of what is being called the Next Generation Launch system — a new American lineup of intermediate- and large-class rockets capable of launching the full range of national security missions required by the Air Force, as well as science and commercial payloads for other customers, according to the Orbital ATK website.
The company is among several companies competing to become the supplier of the vehicles that will be used to send military satellites into orbit, explained ATK Orbital spokeswoman Kay Anderson.
"We're in full-on development of a rocket," she said. "We're making the (brand new) rocket motors here at Promontory. We're also making the strap-on motors, previous generations of which have been used on other rockets."
The Air Force will narrow the field to three designs by this summer, she said, with the final selection of two providers expected in a couple of years.
"We'll do a live motor that will static test next year," Anderson said. "There will be a test launch in 2020."
Currently, more than 200 Orbital ATK employees are working on the new launch system, with over 600 workers planned to be added over the next 24 months, the website stated. Hundreds of other jobs are also expected to be created in the extended supply chain.
The company is authorized to spend hundreds of millions in investment on this project, Anderson said. Jointly with the Air Force, $200 million was invested through 2017, she said.
The project utilizes American-developed propulsion and additional flight-proven technologies, she said. The vehicles should be ready to fly in three years.
The new rockets are among the class of evolvable expendable launch vehicles — known as EELVs, the website explained. They will operate from both East and West Coast launch facilities and will share common propulsion, structures and avionics systems with current and future programs, the website stated.
“In a competition of this type, typically the down-select criteria include aspects of technical development, schedule and cost," said John Steinmeyer, Director of Business Development for Orbital ATK. "We have a high degree of confidence that we provide value to the Air Force and that we will be selected to complete prototype vehicle development, including certification test flights.”
Today at Promontory, the company is developing the Common Boost Stage rocket motors that will form the first stage of the next-generation rocket, Anderson said. Officials are planning for several static tests of that rocket motor next year, she said.
Meanwhile, at Bacchus facility in Magna, the company is manufacturing the GEM 63XLT strap-on rocket motors that will provide the NGL rocket with additional boost, she added.
"These are being tested at Promontory, and we anticipate a ground test of the rocket around September of this year," she said.1 comment on this story
Other components of the rocket are being developed at the Aerospace Structures Division in Clearfield, and the Launch Vehicles Division in Chandler, Arizona, she added.
Anderson said these vehicles will be the first new rockets built since the company merged into Orbital ATK and will be a larger class than previous generations.
"This will be a heavier lift (payload) vehicle that will compete with the larger rockets," she said. "We feel like we're doing really well and building a rocket we're really excited about. We just hope that the Air Forces thinks we're the one to do the job."