Category Archives: Space

Landsat 9

NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) officially marked the handover and commencement of operations of the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite. Landsat 9 was designed, built and tested by Northrop Grumman Corporation at its Gilbert, Arizona satellite facility and was launched into orbit aboard an Atlas V rocket in September 2021. The satellite completed its systems verification and commissioning in late July 2022.

Landsat 9
The Landsat 9 (background) and the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) satellites in Northrop Grumman’s Gilbert, Arizona satellite manufacturing facility

«Northrop Grumman-built satellites like Landsat 9 are vital to tracking the state of our planet», said Mike Witt, chief sustainability officer, Northrop Grumman. «The data they collect is vital to analyzing, predicting and addressing changes to ecosystems, helping us to better understand the role sustainability plays in securing a safer world».

Landsat 9 will collect space-based images and data that will aid researchers in areas including agriculture, geology, land use mapping, forestry, global change research and water resource management. The Landsat images further support international emergency and disaster relief to save lives of those in areas most affected by natural disasters. Landsat 9 is based on Northrop Grumman’s flight proven LEOStar-3 platform and extensively leverages the design of the Landsat 8 spacecraft, which has been in service since 2013.

«Landsat 9 continues the uninterrupted monitoring of our Earth by building on the 50-year legacy of the NASA and USGS Landsat system», said Steve Krein, vice president, commercial and civil satellites, Northrop Grumman. «This is the fourth Landsat satellite built by Northrop Grumman that plays a critical role of global observation for monitoring, understanding and managing Earth’s natural resources».

American-built first-stage

Northrop Grumman Corporation and Firefly Aerospace have joined forces to provide an American-built first-stage upgrade for the Antares rocket and a new medium launch vehicle to serve commercial, civil and national security space launch markets.

Antares
Northrop Grumman Teams with Firefly Aerospace to Develop Antares Rocket Upgrade and New Medium Launch Vehicle

«Through our collaboration, we will first develop a fully domestic version of our Antares rocket, the Antares 330, for Cygnus space station commercial resupply services, followed by an entirely new medium class launch vehicle», said Scott Lehr, vice president and general manager, launch and missile defense systems, Northrop Grumman. «Northrop Grumman and Firefly have been working on a combined strategy and technical development plan to meet current and future launch requirements».

Firefly’s propulsion technology utilizes the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, which minimizes launch site upgrades. The Antares 330 will utilize seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines and leverage its composites technology for the first stage structures and tanks, while Northrop Grumman provides its proven avionics and software, upper-stage structures and Castor 30XL motor, as well as proven vehicle integration and launch pad operations. This new stage will also significantly increase Antares mass to orbit capability.

«Firefly prides itself on being a disrupter in the new space industry and collaborating with a proven space pioneer like Northrop Grumman will help us continue that disruption», said Peter Schumacher, interim CEO, Firefly.

The Antares 330 performance upgrade will enable Northrop Grumman to continue to support the company’s current contracts while planning for future mission capabilities.

Firefly Aerospace is an emerging end-to-end space transportation company focused on developing a family of launch vehicles, in-space vehicles, and services to provide industry-leading affordability, convenience, and reliability to its government and commercial customers. Firefly’s launch vehicles, combined with their in-space vehicles, such as the Space Utility Vehicle (SUV) and Blue Ghost Lunar Lander, provide the space industry with a single source for missions from LEO to the surface of the Moon and beyond.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Missile Warning

Following a successful launch from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida today, the U.S. Space Force is now communicating with the sixth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO)-6 satellite, built by Lockheed Martin.

SBIRS GEO-6
The U.S. Space Force’s SBIRS GEO-6 early missile warning satellite built by Lockheed Martin

The final satellite in the SBIRS program series, GEO-6 joins the U.S. Space Force’s constellation of missile warning satellites equipped with powerful scanning and staring infrared surveillance sensors.

«The need for Overhead Persistent Infrared systems has never been more critical», said Michael Corriea, vice president of Lockheed Martin Space’s Overhead Persistent Infrared (OPIR) Mission Area. «At Lockheed Martin, we are making advancements to keep pace with evolving needs based on emerging threats in our military customers’ environment, helping pave the way for the future».

The GEO-6 satellite is a stepping stone toward the resilient missile warning to be provided by SBIRS’ successor, the Next Generation OPIR GEO System (NGG). Like SBIRS GEO-5 and GEO-6, NGG will be based on Lockheed Martin’s modernized LM 2100 Combat Bus, which provides additional capabilities such as cyber hardening, resiliency features, enhanced spacecraft power, and improved propulsion and electronics.

The SBIRS GEO-6 satellite is responding to the U.S. Space Force’s commands as planned. Signal acquisition was confirmed 3 hours and 43 minutes after the satellite’s 6:29 a.m. EDT lift off aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. The satellite is now orbiting under its own propulsion following separation from the rocket. The onboard sensors collect data that allow the U.S. military to detect missile launches, support ballistic missile defense, expand technical intelligence gathering and bolstering situational awareness on the battlefield.

 

A Step Toward More Resiliency

The OPIR mission has become more critical as ballistic missile technology has proliferated around the world with over 1,000 missile launches tracked annually. Lockheed Martin recognizes that modernized technology is needed to augment the current missile warning architecture and improve resiliency against attacks.

«SBIRS GEO-6 fortifies the current missile warning architecture, and it also signifies that we are on our way to achieving even greater technological capacity and expanded coverage with NGG», Corriea said.

Lockheed Martin is proud to be part of the SBIRS team led by Space Systems Command’s Space Sensing Directorate at Los Angeles Air Force Base. Lockheed Martin Space, Sunnyvale, California, is the SBIRS prime contractor, with Northrop Grumman of Azusa, California, as the payload supplier.

BOLE booster

Northrop Grumman Corporation and NASA successfully conducted a full-scale static fire of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket motor, known as Flight Support Booster-2. The five-segment solid rocket booster is the world’s largest solid rocket motor and will provide more than 75 percent of the SLS rocket’s initial thrust during launch.

Space Launch System (SLS)
The five-segment solid rocket booster for NASA’s SLS rocket tested for early learning in support of next-generation systems at Northrop Grumman’s Promontory, Utah, test area

Over 300 measurement channels assessed the 154-foot-long/50-meter-long solid rocket booster as it fired for just over two minutes producing upwards of 3.6 million pounds of thrust. Today’s test evaluates new materials and demonstrates a new motor ignition system and an electronic thrust vector control system that steers the motors to provide data for the development of the next-generation Booster Obsolescence and Life Extension (BOLE) boosters.

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract to develop the BOLE booster in December 2021. The award also included follow-on production and flight sets for Artemis IV through Artemis VIII, and a BOLE booster set for Artemis IX.

«Continuous product improvements and obsolescence mitigation helps NASA achieve its long-term mission to utilize SLS for its Artemis program», said Wendy Williams, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. «This opportunity for early learning on next-generation systems will help us develop an enhanced booster that is ready to support the greater payload demands of the SLS rocket through 2031».

Booster segments for Artemis II, the first crewed Artemis mission, and Artemis III, the mission that will land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface, are complete. Artemis IV segments are currently being cast with propellant and the first BOLE booster composite segment case to be used for development testing completed winding in October.

Northrop Grumman has supplied rocket propulsion for NASA’s Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs and developed the five-segment SLS solid rocket booster based on the flight-proven design of the space shuttle boosters. Designed with an additional segment and upgraded technology and materials, each of the twin solid rocket boosters generates 25 percent more thrust than its predecessor boosters to aid the SLS rocket’s ability to deliver greater mass and volume to space with greater departure energy than any existing launch vehicle.

Along with the twin solid rocket boosters, Northrop Grumman also produces the abort motor and attitude control motor for NASA’s Orion spacecraft’s Launch Abort System that increases astronaut safety on pad and during ascent. The company further supports the Artemis program providing the Habitation and Logistics Outpost module for NASA’s lunar Gateway and internally developing a Lunar Terrain Vehicle that supports human and robotic exploration of the moon and beyond.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Tranche 1 Transport Layer

Northrop Grumman Corporation on July 05, 2022 announced the selection of Airbus U.S. Space & Defense Inc. as the commercial provider of satellite platforms for its proliferated-LEO constellation. Under the terms of the contract, Airbus U.S. will supply 42 satellite «bus» platforms, as well as support vehicle assembly, integration and testing.

Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL)
Northrop Grumman’s T1TL mesh satellite constellation will provide resilient, low-latency, high-volume data transport supporting U.S. military missions around the world and serve as a critical element for Joint-All Domain Command Control

The Space Development Agency (SDA) selected Northrop Grumman in February to develop and field a portion of its Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) constellation. The T1TL network will deliver persistent, secure connectivity for the U.S. military and serve as a critical element for Joint All-Domain Command and Control.

«The addition of Airbus U.S. as one of our key commercial suppliers complements our end-to-end satellite system integration and heritage communication mission expertise», said Blake Bullock, vice president, communication systems, strategic space systems, Northrop Grumman.

In May, Northrop Grumman announced the selection of Mynaric and Innoflight as its suppliers for laser communications and encryption, decryption capabilities.

Headquartered in Arlington, Virginia and operating under a Special Security Agreement (SSA), Airbus U.S. Space & Defense, Inc. offers advanced solutions to meet the most complex U.S. defense, security, space, and intelligence requirements. A long time U.S. government partner, Airbus U.S. leverages world-class satellite, laser communication, rotary and fixed wing solutions to help its National Security focused customers meet their missions.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance, and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Laser Communication

Northrop Grumman Corporation on June 14, 2022 announced the successful ground demonstration of a secure networked laser communications system for proliferated-LEO (Low Earth Orbit) constellations supporting the U.S. military.

Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL)
Northrop Grumman’s Tranche 1 Transport Layer (T1TL) mesh satellite constellation will provide resilient, low-latency, high-volume data transport supporting U.S. military missions around the world and serve as a critical element for Joint All Domain Command Control

Performed for the Space Development Agency (SDA) leadership, the demonstration validated compatibility between commercially developed laser communication and secure U.S. government encryption hardware, providing a baseline for Northrop Grumman’s future proliferated space crosslink communications offerings including SDA’s Transport and Tracking programs.

«We invested in this demonstration because we wanted to reduce key risks early in development», said Blake Bullock, vice president, communication systems, strategic space systems, Northrop Grumman. «Our team focused on speed and optimizing the best of emerging commercial suppliers like Mynaric and Innoflight – while bringing the mission expertise unique to Northrop Grumman to test and field this prototype constellation».

Northrop Grumman selected Mynaric as a strategic supplier for laser communications in space, and Innoflight for encryption, decryption and other key aspects of Northrop Grumman’s architecture.

As the U.S. Department of Defense works to connect the joint force, Northrop Grumman’s space networking capabilities seek to play a vital role in providing secure global connectivity. Another step toward enabling this vision to connect the joint force is the recent announcement of a collaboration with AT&T to research and develop a 5G-enabled digital battle network.

Innoflight is a non-traditional defense contractor founded in 2004. Innoflight offers state-of-the-art space avionics, including Communications & Networking Solutions, Cyber Security Solutions, Processing, Data Storage & Payload Interface Electronics Solutions, and Bus & Payload Integrated Avionics Solutions. Our core competency is secure Command, Control, Communications and Computers (C4) systems designed through innovative implementation of modern commercial, off-the-shelf technology. The result is modular, high performance, yet low Size Weight and Power systems at competitive prices. Our products are qualified through an Innoflight rigorous process that includes parts reliability analysis and testing, system-level fault tolerance, and radiation risk mitigation. Our customers include the U.S. government, prime aerospace contractors and commercial space developers.

Mynaric is leading the industrial revolution of laser communications by producing optical communications terminals for air, space and mobile applications. Laser communication networks provide connectivity from the sky, allowing for ultra-high data rates and secure, long-distance data transmission between moving objects for wireless terrestrial, mobility, airborne- and space-based applications. The company is headquartered in Munich, Germany, with additional locations in Los Angeles, California, and Washington, D.C.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Solid rocket booster

Northrop Grumman Corporation has been awarded a multi-year contract valued at more than $2 billion from United Launch Alliance (ULA) for increased production of its 160-centimeter diameter/63-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63) solid rocket booster and the extended length variation (GEM 63XL). The award, which supports Amazon’s Project Kuiper and additional ULA customers, includes both an increased production rate and significant facility expansion. This will enable Northrop Grumman to increase capacity and allows for the modernization of current and new state-of-the-art facilities and tooling.

Vulcan Centaur
Solid rocket boosters will support existing ULA customers and Amazon’s Project Kuiper

«Northrop Grumman’s GEM 63XL is the longest monolithic, single-cast solid rocket booster ever produced», said Wendy Williams, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. «Built on decades of expertise, our newest GEM motors provide customers with an affordable, repeatable and reliable product they can trust to boost their most important missions».

The company began development of the fourth- and fifth-generation GEM strap-on boosters in 2015 under a cooperative agreement with ULA to provide additional lift capability for the Atlas V and Vulcan launch vehicles. Leveraging decades of flight-proven heritage while utilizing advanced technologies, teams successfully developed and tested innovative solutions to meet ULA design objectives. Both boosters use common materials and processes to offer a low cost, high-reliability, repeatable product.

The GEM 63 solid rocket booster flew its inaugural flight on ULA’s NROL-101 mission in November 2020. To date, 13 GEM 63 boosters have supported four Atlas V launches, with nine more scheduled to support three more Atlas V launches in 2022. Each booster contributes 371,500 pounds/168,510 kg of additional maximum thrust to the launch vehicle, and up to five boosters can support an Atlas V launch.

The GEM 63XL booster is scheduled to support ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket later this year in the extended length variation’s first flight. Each booster will contribute 463,249 pounds/210,126 kg of additional thrust to the rocket, and as many as six boosters can be used on a single launch to support the vehicle’s heavy-lift capabilities.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Gravitational waves

Airbus has been awarded a contract from the European Space Agency (ESA) to further develop the implementation of LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), one of the most ambitious science missions ESA has planned to date. With Phase B1 now underway, the detailed mission design and final technology development activities for the gravitational wave observatory are due to be completed by 2024, with launch planned for the late 2030s.

Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA)
Airbus to further develop LISA gravitational wave observatory mission

Gravitational waves were first postulated by Albert Einstein. They are distortions in space-time, created when for example supermassive black holes – billions of times heavier than our sun – merge. These events are so powerful that the resulting gravitational waves can be measured by sensitive instruments from billions of light years away.

To measure these waves, LISA consists of three spacecraft that form an equilateral triangle deep in space, 2.5 million kilometres/1,553,428 miles apart from each other. Gravitational waves stretch and compress space-time, causing the tiniest changes in distance between the LISA probes (less than the diameter of an atom). Any movements of test masses that free-fall inside the three spacecraft when a gravitational wave passes can be detected by the spacecrafts’ sensitive instruments. LISA will do this by using lasers that continuously transmit back and forth between the satellites using interferometry, measuring the distance between each of the test masses.

Some of the key technologies required for LISA were successfully tested in space with the LISA Pathfinder (LPF) mission developed and built by Airbus as prime. The mission results showed that LPF operated even more precisely than required for LISA. LPF was launched on 3rd December 2015 and ended in July 2017.

Gravitational waves are a new research method that uses gravity instead of light to measure dynamic processes in the universe. The study of gravitational waves offers enormous potential for discovering parts of the universe that are invisible in other ways. LISA will significantly expand our knowledge of the beginning, evolution, and structure of our universe. Gravitational waves have been detected by ground-based observatories in recent years – by experiments such as Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the European Virgo observatory – but these facilities are limited in size and sensitivity, meaning that they are only able to detect high-frequency gravitational waves from particular sources (such as merging stellar-mass black holes and neutron stars).

Launch of three-spacecraft constellation planned for late 2030s

Space Solar Power

In honor of Earth Day, the Air Force Research Laboratory, or AFRL, is highlighting its efforts toward harnessing the Sun’s energy, converting it to Radio Frequency, or RF, and beaming it to the Earth providing a green power source for the U.S. and allied forces.

SSPIDR
Day focus – Beaming solar power from satellite array

Key technologies need to be developed to make such a challenging process a reality.

In response to this challenge, AFRL formed the Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research, or SSPIDR, project to develop the critical technologies needed for such a system. These technologies include further improving solar cell efficiencies; solar to RF conversion and beam forming; reducing large temperature fluctuations on spacecraft components; and deployable structure concept designs.

«A major objective of SSPIDR is to break the one-meter-squared aperture threshold for solar power capture and conversion, and beam that energy to the ground», said James Winter, AFRL principal engineer and SSPIDR project manager. «AFRL will do this with Arachne, SSPIDR’s keystone flight experiment that is anticipated to launch in early 2025».

Other demonstrations of the target technologies include the Space Power INcremental DepLoyables Experiment, or SPINDLE, – a deployable structures experiment still undergoing trade studies, and the Space Power InfRared Regulation and Analysis of Lifetime, or SPIRRAL, experiment – a thermal experiment exploring the concept of using variable emissivity materials to reduce the large temperature swings experienced by spacecraft components on orbit. SPIRRAL is anticipated to launch in 2023 for a test campaign onboard the International Space Station.

«The technologies demonstrated by Arachne, SPINDLE and SPIRRAL will pave the way for an integrated large scale, space-based solar power system capable of collecting solar energy, converting it to RF and beaming it to a receiving station on the ground for conversion to clean, usable power», Winter said.

Colonel Eric Felt, the director of the AFRL Space Vehicles Directorate, considers SSPIDR one of his most important programs.

«An operational system like SSPIDR would provide power ‘on demand’ anywhere on the globe regardless of weather or latitude, day or night and without vulnerable logistics lines», Felt said.

The value of space solar power has been internationally recognized as a foundational capability in need of development.

«This technology will enable expanded space capabilities and give us military advantage, as well as provide economic growth and commerce with more sustainable energy sources». Felt said. «We are excited about the possibilities that the conversion of space solar power energy brings to our national defense and the humanitarian and green energy benefits it will offer to the world».

Space Solar Power Incremental Demonstrations and Research Project (SSPIDR)

Glide Breaker

Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is seeking innovative proposals to conduct wind tunnel and flight testing of jet interaction effects for Phase 2 of the Glide Breaker program. The overall goal of Glide Breaker is to advance the United States’ ability to counter emerging hypersonic threats. Phase 1 of the program focused on developing and demonstrating a Divert and Attitude Control System (DACS) that enables a kill vehicle to intercept hypersonic weapon threats during their glide phase.

Glide Breaker
Glide Breaker Program Enters New Phase

Phase 2 will focus on quantifying aerodynamic jet interaction effects that result from DACS plumes and hypersonic air flows around an interceptor kill vehicle. The Glide Breaker Phase 2 Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) can be found at this link.

«Glide Breaker Phase 1 developed the propulsion technology necessary to achieve hit-to-kill against highly-maneuverable hypersonic threats. Phase 2 of the Glide Breaker program will develop the technical understanding of jet interactions necessary to enable design of propulsion control systems for a future operational glide-phase interceptor kill vehicle. Phases 1 and 2 together fill the technology gaps necessary for the U.S. to develop a robust defense against hypersonic threats», said Major Nathan Greiner, program manager in DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office.