ULA is set to place a $2 billion contract with Northrop Grumman for solid rocket boosters

United Launch Alliance is expected to award Northrop Grumman a $2 billion contract for solid rocket boosters, according to Kathy Warden, president, and CEO of Northrop Grumman. Warden stated during the first-quarter earnings presentation that the contract would be signed in the 2nd  quarter of 2022.

The solid rocket order comes after ULA was awarded one of three agreements to launch Amazon’s Project Kuiper broadband network. ULA CEO Tory Bruno stated earlier this month that the firm wants to invest heavily in its supply chain in order to handle as many as between 20 to 25 deployments of its forthcoming vehicle Vulcan Centaur each year, which is anticipated to begin flying later this year.

United Launch Alliance anticipated significant production modifications for its Vulcan rocket to meet the needs of their new Amazon Project Kuiper deals, while Arianespace planned to improve the effectiveness of its Ariane 6 rocket.

During a briefing on Amazon’s arrangements for up to 83 releases to send the bulk of its own 3,236-satellite network into orbit on April 5, executives from launch providers said the magnitude of the deal needed changes in their vehicles as well as manufacturing facilities.

That meant ULA and its suppliers would have to invest significantly to support a far greater number of Vulcan deployments, that he later estimated to be 20 to 25 per year. ULA CEO Tory Bruno stated, “We’re practically doubling America’s launch industrial base.  We’ll be able to get double our flight rate with these extra launches, which means we’ll require to double our infrastructure.”

This necessitated building a contemporary transportable launch platform and also a second vertical integration facility where rockets would be built before being carried to the launch pad.

In 2015, ULA decided to discontinue purchasing solid rockets from Aerojet Rocketdyne and instead chose Orbital ATK (later bought by Northrop Grumman) as their strategic provider of strap-on motors which burn the solid propellant as well as boost the first stage’s lifting capacity.

ULA has employed Northrop Grumman’s Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEMs) on its Delta 4 and Delta 2 launch vehicles for decades. Vulcan Centaur received a 63-inch-diameter GEM 63XL with an increased length. The GEM 63XL variant is 72 feet long, while the Atlas 5 rocket’s GEM 63 motors are 66 feet long.

Vulcan will be available from ULA in four common configurations: zero, two, four, as well as six solid rocket boosters. Warden revealed increased sales for Northrop Grumman’s space business in the first quarter of 2022 during a conference call with analysts.

The company’s overall first-quarter sales were $8.8 billion, down from $9.2 billion the previous year. Military and civil space equipment sales have increased to $2.8 billion from $2.5 billion a year ago.

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