Northrop Grumman's OmegA rocket gets an interesting first launch client

Northrop Grumman's OmegA space launch vehicle has found its first client, as the company expands into markets requiring more grunt from their rockets. Saturn will entrust the OmegA with up to two of its NationSat satellites, which are to be put into geosynchronous transfer orbit around Earth in 2021.

Northrop Grumman is no stranger to rocket launches. The company already has almost 80 missions under its belt, in fact, though they've all been with small and medium class rockets. The OmegA will allow the company to compete in the intermediate/heavy class, too.

Before that can happen, however, OmegA needs to be finished. It was only October, in fact, that the company was granted a Launch Services Agreement to finish the detailed design and verification of both the launch vehicle and its launch sites, by the U.S. Air Force. The first flight, scheduled for spring 2021, will not only be responsible for deploying Saturn's satellites, but act as a certification step in convincing the Air Force that the rocket is good to go.

Either one or two of the NationSat satellites will be onboard at the time, the number to be confirmed closer to launch. Saturn Satellite Networks aims to build out a web of small, geostationary satellites, that it can provide to customers who want satellite access without the complexity of designing, building, and launching their own.

Earlier this year the company announced it would acquire NovaWurks, which had developed the Hyper Integrated Satlet (HISat) platform. Modular, and designed to be scaled to suit a variety of applications, the HISat is a roughly 13 pound unit measuring approximately 8 x 8 x 4 inches in size. Each contains a core set of functionality, such as power management, a sensor suite, propulsion systems, and communications. They're designed to be connected together – and to their payloads – and then loaded with software to define what their flexible hardware should do.

While Northrop Grumman may have its eyes on the lucrative Air Force prize, rocket rivals like SpaceX have demonstrated that commercial launches can be equally important. "Having Saturn's NationSat on board for this mission further demonstrates the versatility of OmegA to serve other markets including commercial and civil government," Charlie Precourt, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman, explains.

Assuming all goes to plan, the first OmegA launch is expected to take place in Q2 2021. OmegA's design is intended to be sufficiently flexible to scale across intermediate and heavy configurations, and handle both cargo and crewed payloads. The intermediate OmegA will have a 2-segment solid rocket booster first stage, while the heavy OmegA will increase that to a 4-segment system; each will use a single-segment SRB for the second stage, and then a liquid-hydrogen third stage, though Northrop Grumman expects that other versions could tag on extra SRBs as side boosters.