Michael Franco reports: There has been a lot of talk about government partnerships with commercial entities at the 33rd annual Space Symposium in Colorado over the last two days, not least of which was the announcement that Orbital ATK is in major standing to compete for a US Air Force contract for a new rocket system to deliver payloads to space. New Atlas was on hand to talk to the company to get more of the story.
The program for which Orbital ATK will be building its largest rocket ever, dubbed the Next Generation Launch system (NGL), was initiated by the Air Force to replace the Russian-built RD-180 rocket for the delivery of national security payloads such as GPS satellites and missile-warning systems to outer space. In the first phase of the project, the Air Force requested a new rocket-propulsion system, and Orbital ATK obliged by developing a solid-fuel-based system. According to Mike Laidley, vice president of Space Launch Programs, the company leveraged its experience building propulsion systems for the space shuttle to achieve success.
“We’ve taken those designs which were steel-case segmented section and we’ve updated the design and the manufacturing processes to be a composite-segmented case that’s wound on a mandrel,” he told us, adding that the material used was be a carbon-fiber composite. “It will be poured and built up, and the segments will be assembled at the field site to create a rocket that will support our launch vehicle.” By “poured,” Laidley is referring to the insertion of the fuel – which he describes as a thick cake batter consisting of ammonium perchlorate and other binders – into the segments. … (read more)