Tag Archives: Northrop Grumman

Antares launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched a Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This was Northrop Grumman’s first launch in 2019. The company hopes to complete 4 launches this year.

Meanwhile the leaders in the 2019 launch race remain unchanged:

4 SpaceX
4 China
4 Europe (Arianespace)
3 Russia

The U.S. however has widened its lead in the national rankings, 8 to 4.

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Air Force’s launch contracting plans under scrutiny

It appears the Air Force wants to decide now which two rocket companies it will use for its launch needs in the 2022 to 2026 time period, and this desire is raising hackles among those companies.

[T]he Air Force will choose only two companies to meet its launch needs from 2022 to 2026, with one provider winning 60 percent of the contracts and the other taking 40 percent. There is no provision to on-ramp other companies during the time frame.

This sets up a rather frantic competition between the incumbents, ULA and SpaceX, and newcomers Blue Origin (with its New Glenn booster) and Northrop Grumman (with its Omega rocket). Moreover, the timing appears to prejudice the competition in favor of the incumbents, which already have existing launch systems the government can assess.

Something is really fishy here. Why does the Air Force need to limit its services to only two companies? And why do they have to make this decision now, three to seven years before the launches will occur? Common sense says you instead issue specific contract bids, for each launch, as they are needed, thus allowing as many companies as possible to compete for the business.

In fact, this policy seems to directly contradict the Air Force’s stated goal, repeated many times in the past few years, to widen competition in the launch industry, both to lower cost and to give the military strategic redundancy in its needed launch services.

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DARPA’s satellite servicing mission adrift

Capitalism in space? DARPA’s program to test a satellite servicing mission appears in serious and complex trouble with the termination by Maxar (previously called SSL) of its contract to build the structure, or “bus”, of the robot.

What makes this more complicated is that the company building the actual servicing payload is continuing its work.

While Maxar will no longer be providing the satellite bus, work on the servicing payload continues. Among the companies involved in that effort is Praxis, a company handling planning for mission operations of the RSGS servicing system, such as how the system will safely grapple the target satellite. “For our day-to-day operations, that hasn’t really affected us. We’re pretty far along on the payload development,” said Tony Marzi, general manager of Praxis, during a presentation at the MIT New Space Age Conference at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology here March 15.

DARPA is thus calling for proposals to launch this payload.

The irony here is that this DARPA project was under criticism from the start, even to the point that a competing satellite servicing company, Orbital ATK, sued the agency. That company, now part of Northrop Grumman, was building its own privately funded servicing robot, and considered DARPA’s effort to be unfair in that it provided direct government subsidies to its competitors.

While Orbital ATK lost its suit, it now appears it has won the competition — assuming it eventually launches its own mission.

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Pegasus problems continue

Capitalism in space: The much-delayed launch of a NASA science satellite by Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rocket continues to slip, with the unstated technical issues that caused several earlier launch dates to be cancelled lingering.

NASA’s Ionospheric Connection Explorer (ICON) mission was scheduled to launch in late 2017 on a Pegasus XL rocket based out of Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. That launch was delayed to June 2018 because of an issue with the rocket’s separation system, then delayed again when engineers detected “off-nominal” data from the rocket during a ferry flight from California ahead of the June launch attempt.

That problem was linked to a faulty sensor that was replaced, with the launch eventually rescheduled for Nov. 7, this time flying out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. However, after the rocket’s L-1011 aircraft took off for the Nov. 7 launch attempt, engineers again detected off-nominal data from the rocket and scrubbed the launch.

Neither NASA nor Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, which builds the Pegasus, have provided additional details about the problem, but at a December meeting of an advisory committee, Nicky Fox, director of NASA’s heliophysics division, said engineers were examining the control system of the rocket’s fins.

Fox, speaking at a Feb. 25 meeting of a National Academies committee here, said the launch was now scheduled for no earlier than the second quarter. “Northrop Grumman is still working extremely hard to analyze what is causing these anomalies during the ferry flight,” she said. “They’re working extremely hard to try and get ICON up as soon as possible.”

The article notes that Pegasus has only had three launches in the past decade. It was originally designed to provide a low cost option for smaller satellites, but over the decades did not fulfill that goal. It is now much more expensive than the many smallsat rockets coming on line. With these unexplained issues preventing this launch as well, its future appears dim at best

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Military inspector general to review SpaceX’s launch certification

The swamp attacks! The inspector general for the Defense Department has begun a review of the process the Air Force used to certify SpaceX as a qualified military launch provider.

“Our objective is to determine whether the U.S. Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles,” the inspector general said in a memo to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson sent on Monday.

The only reason I can see for this investigation is that the launch companies that have development contracts with the military — ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin — are applying pressure to get SpaceX eliminated as a competitor. And since there are many in the government aerospace bureaucracy who are in bed with these companies and are also hostile to SpaceX, that pressure has succeeded in getting this investigation started.

SpaceX meanwhile has successfully launched one military payload, and has two more military launches scheduled for 2019. Its prices are so low that these other companies cannot presently compete, not without political help. Worse, it appears these other companies, and the Air Force, do not appear interested in reducing the cost of their next generation rockets to become more competitive. Instead, they apparently have decided to turn the screws on SpaceX and get it eliminated as a competitor.

Meanwhile, SpaceX might be doing its own political push back, behind the scenes. At least, why else did two California lawmakers recently demand a review of the Air Force’s rocket development contracts to all of SpaceX’s competitors, but not SpaceX?

All of this has absolutely nothing to do with picking the best and cheapest launch companies to save the taxpayer money. Instead, the entire way our government operates today is completely uninterested in the needs of the nation. The focus of lawmakers and government officials is to play political games in an effort to take out their opponents. And in this battle the country be damned.

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Trump administration moves forward with reorganization of space bureaucracy

The Trump administration is moving ahead with its planned reorganization of the military’s entire space bureaucracy under the rubric of the Space Force.

The Pentagon is moving forward with plans to create a Space Force as a new military branch. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the Space Force will be small in size and its advantage will come in the form of cutting-edge technology.

Shanahan also has concluded that the existing DoD bureaucracies are not equipped to deliver next-generation space technologies quickly enough. He has directed the establishment of a Space Development Agency that would report directly to Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin. Many details are still being worked out about the SDA, but Shanahan said in a memo that he wants it set up by March 29.

Because much of the modern press does such a bad job, working from a general ignorance, I must repeat again that the goal here is not to make a space army, with laser guns and uniforms, but to centralize the various military space departments, scattered across several divisions, into one office that has some clout because it reports directly to the White House. Right now these scattered offices report to different military agencies with different and competing agendas. The result has been a poorly coordinated space policy that has been expensive and also unable to accomplish much in recent years.

Whether this reorganization will streamline things as it is intended remains an open question. The bureaucratic culture in Washington is certainly never interested in streamlining. The usual result of such efforts is a larger bureaucracy that spends even more. We shall see.

This action is also related to another story today: Lawmakers: Air Force launch procurement strategy undermines SpaceX

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ken Calvert (R-Calif.) are calling for an independent review of the Air Force’s space launch procurement strategy. They contend that the Air Force, in an effort to broaden the launch playing field, is putting SpaceX at a competitive disadvantage.

In a Feb. 4 letter addressed to Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson, Feinstein and Calvert — both with strong ties to the space industry — argue that the path the Air Force has chosen to select future launch providers creates an unfair playing field. Although SpaceX is not mentioned in the letter by name, it is clear from the lawmakers’ language that they believe the company is getting a raw deal because, unlike its major competitors, it did not receive Air Force funding to modify its commercial rockets so they meet national security mission requirements.

This second story actually illustrates the bureaucratic concerns that the Trump administration is trying to address in the first story. It appears to the elected officials that the military’s award of this contract was not necessarily in the best interests of the military, but instead was designed to help some companies at the expense of others.

The $2.3 billion in funding went to ULA, Blue Origin, and Northrop Grumman to develop their next generation rockets. Why SpaceX, considered a favorite, did not receive any funding remains unclear, though SpaceX officials have indicated that in the past they have refused government development money (for building Falcon Heavy) because of the requirements attached. It could be that SpaceX did the same here, but it is also possible that the military bureaucracy played favorites.

It is this question that the elected officials want clarified.

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Stratolaunch ends plan to build rockets for its giant Roc aircraft

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch has decided to cease work on the family of second stage rockets plus engine, announced in August and September 2018, that would have launched from the bottom of its giant Roc airplane.

Instead, they will only launch Northrop Grumman’s Pegasus rockets from Roc.

This does not look good for the company. Roc is vastly oversized for Pegasus, which really doesn’t need it. It also suggests that the death of Paul Allen has had a bad effect on the company.

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Antares rocket launches Cygnus freighter to ISS

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket today successfully launched its Cygnus freighter to ISS.

This was only the second launch this year by the division of Northrop Grumman that used to be Orbital ATK. They have been trying to launch a research satellite using their Pegasus rocket, but have had engineering issues that keep delaying it.

The leaders in the 2018 launch race remain unchanged:

31 China
18 SpaceX
11 Russia
8 ULA
8 Europe (Arianespace)

China continues to lead the U.S. in the national rankings, 31 to 30. The U.S. total now exceeds last year, and is the most this century. We have now had 91 launches this year, the most since 2014. I expect that number to go up significantly, with a real chance it will pass 100 launches for the first time since 1990, just prior to the fall of the Soviet Union.

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Air Force awards contracts to ULA, Northrop Grumman, Blue Origin

The competition heats up: The Air Force today announced contract awards to ULA, Northrop Grumman, and Blue Origin to help further the development of their new rockets.

The award to Blue Origin will be for development of the New Glenn Launch System. The award to Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems is for development of the OmegA Launch System. The award to United Launch Alliance will be for development of the Vulcan Centaur Launch System.

The Launch Service Agreements will facilitate the development of three domestic launch system prototypes and enable the future competitive selection of two National Security Space launch service providers for future procurements, planned for no earlier than fiscal year 2020.

The press release makes no mention of the amount of money being granted to these companies. Personally, I’d rather the government gave nothing until it actually bought real launch services from these companies, but it can only help the Air Force to have four different launch companies (when you include SpaceX) to draw upon. And the competition will force all four to reduce their costs and be creative.

Update: One of my readers in the comments below provided this link outlining the money granted for each contract, with ULA getting just under $1 billion, Northrop Grumman getting just under $800 million, and Blue Origin getting $500 million. This is not chicken-feed, and is in essence a subsidy for all three companies. The large amounts will act to discourage cost-savings, and in my opinion is a mistake. Whenever government bodies provide these kinds of subsidies prior to the deliver of services, the cost for the services inevitably is higher.

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Stratolaunch to build its own upper stages

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch today announced that it is designing and building three differently-sized upper stage rockets to attach to the fuselage of its giant Roc airplane.

Beside the Pegasus rocket, owned by Northrop Grumman, aimed for first flight in 2020, Stratolaunch will build a medium and medium-heavy rockets, with the former set for a 2022 flight, as well as a fully reusable space plane, now in early development.

The space plane concept would apparently be capable of taking payloads up and down from orbit, and could therefore become the first totally reusable launch capability.

Overall, it does appear that the company, unable to find someone else to design its upper stage, has been forced to do it itself.

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Cygnus fires engine to test reboost of ISS

The Cygnus freighter presently berthed to ISS yesterday did a successful test engine firing to see if it could raise the orbit of ISS.

The cargo resupply vehicle provided a reboost to the Station at 4:25 pm Eastern, with a short 50 second burn of its main engine on the aft of the vehicle, raising the Station’s altitude by 295 feet. This test will pave the way for future, longer burns, removing some of the orbital stationkeeping strain from the Russian assets.

This was the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle fleet in July 2011, a US spacecraft had performed a reboost of the ISS.

Northrop Grumman proposed the idea, considering it a way to enhance the value of Cygnus for future NASA contracts. It also appears that NASA is looking to see if the Dragon and Starliner capsule can do this. If so, it will free the U.S. from another dependency it presently has with Russia, who today has the only approved ability to raise the station’s orbit, using Progress and Soyuz capsules and sometimes the engine on its Zvezda module.

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Witchhunt against Northrop Grumman employee because of his private opinions

The new blacklist: The modern McCarthyism goes after a Northrop Grumman employee because it doesn’t like his private political opinions.

Aerospace giant Northrop Grumman Corp. said it is taking “immediate action” to look into a report that one of its engineers is part of a white nationalist group and was involved in violent brawls during last year’s Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va.

Investigative news outlet ProPublica and PBS documentary program “Frontline” identified Michael Miselis, 29, as a member of the Rise Above Movement, which they described as a Southern California group that “expresses contempt for Muslims, Jews and immigrants.” The Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights group describes the Rise Above Movement as a hate group, and categorizes it specifically as a white nationalist group.

Read the article. The attitude of the author will chill you to the bone.

This is not an endorsement of this employee’s political opinions. In fact, a close read of the article suggests that this person might not even be the person with such opinions. Nonetheless, in a free country one should have the right to any opinions, and those opinions, no matter how vile, should not prevent you from earning your living. Furthermore, a free country will allow you to express those opinions, freely, without threat of harm.

It does not appear we live in such a country at this time. This individual has been identified as having opinions the social justice warriors of the left do not like, and thus he must be stoned to death. I am surprised they haven’t yet gotten the pitchforks and torches out and lynched him.

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Northrop Grumman’s first Pegasus launch delayed indefinitely

The first launch of a Pegasus rocket following the completion of the sale of Orbital ATK to Northrop Grumman has been delayed indefinitely because of “off-nominal data” detected in the rocket.

The payload is a NASA climate research satellite dubbed ICON. The rocket and launch crew were on board the L1011 carrier plane on they way to the Pacific launch area for next week’s launch when they detected the issue and decided to return to California.

This is not the first problem with this particular Pegasus launch.

ICON’s launch has been delayed a year by a pair of concerns with its Pegasus launcher. Engineers wanted more time to inspect the Pegasus rocket motors after they were mishandled during shipment to Vandenberg, officials said. That pushed the launch back from June to December 2017, the next availability in the military-run range at Kwajalein.

Then managers decided to ground the mission to assess the reliability of bolt-cutters used to jettison the Pegasus rocket’s payload fairing and separate the satellite in orbit. Workers installed smaller bolts in the fairing and satellite separation mechanisms, a measure officials said will ensure the cutters do their jobs.

For Northrop Grumman this isn’t the best way to start its new rocket business, but better a delay than a failed launch.

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Northrop Grumman purchase of Orbital ATK approved

Capitalism in space: Northrop Grumman’s acquisition of Orbital ATK has been approved by the Federal Trade Commission.

With this purchase, the name Orbital ATK will recede into history. This division of Northrop Grumman will now be called Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems. Here at Behind the Black I will simple call it Northrop Grumman.

The FTC ruling carried with it one caveat:

As a condition for the approval of the merger, the company will have to supply solid rocket motors “on a non-discriminatory basis under specified circumstances,” the FTC ruled.

Ensuring competition in the solid rocket motors industry is a key issue for the Defense Department because only two manufacturers remain in the business, Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne. The Air Force plans to acquire a new strategic intercontinental ballistic missile, the so-called Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, with Northrop Grumman and Boeing competing for the award. The intent was for both Orbital ATK and Aerojet to supply both prime contractors. The FTC decision requires Northrop Grumman to separate its solid rocket motors business with a firewall so it can continue to support Boeing.

It will be up to the Defense Department to ensure compliance with the firewall mandate.

It is unclear from the press report what this firewall accomplishes. It sounds like there was fear that Northrop Grumman would not have sold its solid rocket boosters to competitor Boeing, but I don’t see that happening. This acquisition was designed to put Northrop Grumman back in the rocket business just as that business is booming. Part of that business is selling solid rockets.

Either way, the company that David Thompson started in the early 1980s to challenge the big space companies, Orbital Sciences, has now completely vanished into one of those big space companies.

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More problems uncovered during testing of the James Webb Space Telescope

During ground tests of the James Webb Space Telescope engineers have discovered an additional quite astonishing problem that will certainly delay the project again.

In a presentation at a meeting of the National Academies’ Space Studies Board here May 3, Greg Robinson, the JWST program director at NASA Headquarters, said some “screws and washers” appear to have come off the spacecraft during recent environmental testing at a Northrop Grumman facility in Southern California.

Technicians found the items after the spacecraft element of JWST, which includes the bus and sunshield but not its optics and instruments, was moved last weekend from one chamber for acoustics tests to another to prepare for vibration testing.

“Right now we believe that all of this hardware — we’re talking screws and washers here — come from the sunshield cover,” he said. “We’re looking at what this really means and what is the recovery plan.” The problem, he said, was only a couple of days old, and he had few additional details about the problem. “It’s not terrible news, but it’s not good news, either,” he said. [emphasis mine]

The absurd spin expressed by the program director above is garbage. This is unbelievable and entirely unacceptable. On spacecraft, especially those that are not planned for in-space maintenance like Webb, screws are routinely sealed with some form of glue so that they will not unscrew themselves during the vibrations of launch. This is standard space engineering and has been for more than a half century.

That some screws came off Webb during testing suggests a quality control problem at Northrop Grumman that is beyond comprehension.

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Orbital ATK shareholders approve sale to Northrop Grumman

Capitalism in space: The shareholders of Orbital ATK today approved the sale of the company to Northrop Grumman for $7.8 billion.

I suspect this will mean the end of the Orbital name, to be replaced by Northrop Grumman, once a major player in space but focused elsewhere in recent decades.

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Stratolaunch tests engines on giant plane

Capitalism in space: Stratolaunch announced today that it has successfully tested the six engines that will fly on the giant plane that it will use as a first stage.

This isn’t that big a deal, since the engines were built for the 747s that were scavenged by Stratolaunch to assemble their giant plane. If those engines didn’t work I would have been very surprised.

The most interesting part of this story is this:

Despite the plane’s giant size, Stratolaunch plans to initially use the aircraft as a platform for Orbital ATK’s Pegasus XL rocket, which is currently launched from a much smaller L-1011 airplane. The Stratolaunch plane will ultimately have the ability to carry three Pegasus rockets that could be launched one at a time on a single flight. An initial launch, the company said in May, could take place as early as 2019.

A recent deal could combine two of Stratolaunch’s partners. Scaled Composites, who developed the aircraft for Stratolaunch, is owned by Northrop Grumman, which announced Sept. 18 a deal to acquire Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion.

This might make Pegasus more affordable for smallsat launches, and provide those smallsat companies much greater launch flexibility. Moreover, the purchase of Orbital ATK by Northrop Grumman appears to work to the advantage of Stratolaunch.

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Northrop Grumman to buy Orbital ATK

Capitalism in space: Aerospace giant Northrop Grumman has made a deal to acquire Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion.

This deal essentially allows Northrop Grumman to return as a player in the space industry. In recent years the company has not been visible in any major way in space. Orbital ATK gives it that.

At the same time, the flexibility and risk-taking seen at Orbital ATK that allowed them to build Antares and Cygnus for crew cargo will likely be more difficult as part of a giant corporation.

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GAO denied access to Webb telescope workers by Northrop Grumman

In a report as well as at House hearings today the GAO reported that Northrop Grumman has denied them one-on-one access to workers building the James Webb Space Telescope.

The interviews, part of a running series of GAO audits of the NASA flagship observatory, which is billions of dollars overbudget and years behind schedule, were intended to identify potential future trouble spots, according to a GAO official. But Northrop Grumman Aerospace, which along with NASA says the $9 billion project is back on track, cited concerns that the employees, 30 in all, would be intimidated by the process.

To give Northrop Grumman the benefit of the doubt, these interviews were a somewhat unusual request. Then again, if all was well why would they resist? Note too that the quote above says the cost of the telescope project is now $9 billion. That’s a billion increase since the last time I heard NASA discuss Webb. If the project was “back on track: as the agency and Northrop Grumman claim, than why has the budget suddenly increased by another billion?

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DARPA awards contracts for XS-1 spaceplane

The competition heats up: DARPA has announced contract awards to three companies for the construction of its experimental XS-1 spaceplane, designed to take off and land like a airplane.

The contracts go to Boeing, Northrop Grumman, and Masten Space Systems, and have them each respectively partnered with Blue Origin, XCOR, and Virgin Galactic. More details on the Boeing contract can be found here.

The description of the XS program is quite exciting:
» Read more

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Aerospace defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon all show better than expected profits despite sequestration.

Chicken Little report: Aerospace defense contractors Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon all show better than expected profits despite sequestration.

It seems that each of these companies, finding their profits from defense pork to be relatively flat or dropping slightly, worked harder to sell their other products to other customers, and were generally successful. What a concept!

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