Logo of OmegA
ManufacturerNorthrop Grumman / Orbital ATK
Country of originUnited States
Height59.84 m (196.3 ft)
Diameter3.71 m (12.2 ft) first stage
5.25 m (17.2 ft) upper stage
Payload to GTO
MassIntermediate: 4,900 kg (10,800 lb) to 10,100 kg (22,300 lb)[1]
Payload to GEO
MassHeavy: 5,250 kg (11,570 lb) to 7,800 kg (17,200 lb)[1]
Associated rockets
Launch history
StatusCancelled (2020)
Launch sitesKennedy, LC-39B and Vandenberg SLC-6
Boosters – GEM-63XLT
No. boosters2 to 6
Diameter1.6 m (63 in)
Specific impulse279.3 s (2.739 km/s)
PropellantHydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB)
First stage
Powered byCastor 600 (Intermediate) or Castor 1200 (Heavy) Solid Rocket Booster
PropellantHydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB)
Second stage
Powered byCastor 300 1-segment Solid Rocket Booster
PropellantHydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB)
Third stage
Powered by2 × RL-10C-5-1
Maximum thrust101.8 kN (22,890 lbf)
Specific impulse≈450 seconds (vacuum)
PropellantLH2 / LOX

OmegA was a medium-lift to heavy-lift launch vehicle concept that spent several years in development by Northrop Grumman during 2016–2020, with that development substantially funded by the U.S. government. OmegA was intended for launching U.S. national security satellites, as part of the U.S. Department of the Air Force National Security Space Launch (NSSL) replacement program.[2]

The OmegA design consisted of new composite solid rocket stages with a cryogenic upper stage provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne,[3] replacing earlier plans to use an upper stage engine provided by Blue Origin.[4] The OmegA design was similar to the defunct Ares I and Liberty projects, both of which consisted of a five segment Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) and a cryogenic second stage. It was intended to be launched from Kennedy Space Center LC-39B or Vandenberg Air Force Base SLC-6.[5]

OmegA was proposed as a vehicle to launch national security satellites for the United States Space Force and other government agencies, including to geostationary transfer orbit. The launch vehicle could theoretically launch commercial payloads as well, but was not designed at a price point to make private competitive launches likely. Orbital ATK claimed in 2016 that crewed spacecraft could also be launched, just as the predecessor Ares I and Liberty rockets, which were designed to be able to also launch the Orion space capsule.[6]

By 2016, actual development was to get underway only once the Air Force reached a funding decision.[7][6] In October 2018, the Air Force announced that Northrop Grumman was awarded $792 million for initial development of the OmegA launch vehicle.[8]


In August 2020, the Department of the Air Force announced the results of the approximately US$3.5 billion National Security Space Launch Phase 2, Launch Service Procurement for launches in the 2022–2027 timeframe and OmegA was not selected.[9][10] The USAF announced that it would wind down any remaining OmegA development contracts from phase 1, and may not pay out the entire maximum amount of the earlier 2019 contract to NGIS.[9] On 9 September 2020, Northrop Grumman Space Systems released a statement announcing the cancellation of the OmegA launch vehicle program.[11]


Orbital ATK's Logo

The company that was to propose the OmegA launch vehicle in 2016, Orbital ATK (which was subsequently acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2018), through its predecessor company Alliant Techsystems (ATK),[12] had developed the solid rocket boosters for the Space Shuttle in the 1970s–1980s, and military Intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) prior to that. With the 2004 announcement of the retirement of the Space Shuttle,[13] the company was active in trying to find government purchasers of its, now, 30+ year old solid-propellant rocket technology to continue using the technology for orbital launch vehicles.

From 2004 through 2020, they continued to approach both the US government's civil space agency, NASA, and its military with proposals to develop continued government-funded opportunities to design, build and support the orbital space application of solid rocket technology. They were successful, as NASA selected ATK's technology for the Ares I crewed launch vehicle in 2005, with ATK supplying a five-segment solid rocket booster as the first stage while also being the primary contractor for the Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), which was to have a more standard liquid-propellant powered upper stage.[14] In January 2016 they were successful again when Orbital ATK was one of two companies awarded funds by the United States Air Force to develop technologies to eliminate dependency on the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine for U.S. national security payloads.[7] The award was worth an initial US$46.9 million, with an option for up to US$180.2 million total. This was to be matched by US$31.1 million initially, and up to US$124.8 million in company funds if all options of the contract are exercised. The contract would fund the development of three technologies in support of the OmegA rocket, then called Next Generation Launcher: the GEM-63XL strap-on booster, a Common Booster Core and an extendable nozzle for the BE-3U upper stage engine. A previous effort, funded by NASA, demonstrated the technology for a composite motor case to replace the metal motor cases used for Space Shuttle SRBs.[15][needs update]

In May 2016, Orbital ATK revealed their plans for the Next Generation Launcher, including the configuration and the intended business case.[5] The Next Generation Launcher intends to make use of existing launch infrastructure at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), including the Vehicle Assembly Building used by the Space Shuttle, with the possibility of polar orbit launches occurring from Vandenberg Air Force Base. NASA began looking for commercial users to operate unused space within the Vehicle Assembly Building in June 2015, and by April 2016, it was announced that Orbital ATK was in negotiations to lease High Bay 2.[16] Orbital ATK claimed that a minimum of 5–6 launches per year would be required to make the rocket profitable. Full development and introduction will be dependent on both demand and funding from the U.S. Air Force. A final "go/no-go decision" to proceed with full development and introduction of the Next Generation Launcher took place in early 2018.[17]

In April 2017, Orbital ATK revealed that OmegA would be launched from pad 39B at KSC, sharing launch facilities and mobile transporter with the NASA Space Launch System (SLS). The rocket would compete for USAF national security launches and NASA missions. There would be multiple configurations of the launch system, with multiple stages.[18]

In April 2018, Orbital ATK announced that Next Generation Launcher would be named OmegA. Additionally, they revealed the selection of the RL-10C engine over Blue Origin's BE-3U competitor. The intermediate configuration, with a Castor 600 first stage, increased payload to GTO from 8,500 kilograms (18,700 lb) to 10,100 kilograms (22,300 lb). The Castor 1200-powered Heavy configuration increased GEO payload from 7,000 kilograms (15,000 lb) to 7,800 kilograms (17,200 lb) and has a TLI capability of up to 12,300 kg (27,000 lb).[3][1]

Orbital ATK was purchased by Northrop Grumman in 2018, and OmegA became a Northrop Grumman product.[19][20]

In October 2018, OmegA was awarded a Launch Services Agreement worth US$791,601,015 to design, build and launch the first OmegA rockets.[21]

In late May 2019, while conducting a static fire test of the first stage SRB, an anomaly occurred resulting in the destruction of the SRB nozzle (but not the stage itself).[22] A thorough investigation revealed that the differential pressure between the nozzle's internal pressure and surface pressure following the static fire test was greater than expected; when thrust levels dropped below a critical point upon completion of the static fire, the outside air crushed the nozzle "in an instant, just like a soda can".[23]

In 2019, Northrop Grumman bid the OmegA launch vehicle to the US Air Force for the multi-year block buy launch contract that would cover all US national security launches in 2022–2026.[24]

On 7 August 2020, the US Department of the Air Force announced the results of the approximately US3.5 billion National Security Space Launch Phase 2 Launch Service Procurement, selecting only SpaceX and United Launch Alliance (ULA) to supply launches to the US Department of Defense in the 2022–2027 timeframe. NGIS OmegA was not selected.[9][10] The Air Force said they would wind down any remaining OmegA development contracts from phase 1, and not pay out the entire maximum amount of the earlier 2019 contract to NGIS. The Air Force stated that they would work with NGSS "to determine the right point to tie off their work under the LSA agreements. ... The goal is not to carry them indefinitely, the point of an LSA was to create a more competitive environment".[9]

NGSS indicated they were "disappointed by the decision",[10] and on 9 September 2020 they released a statement announcing the cancellation of the OmegA launch vehicle program[11] as NGSS depended on the funding from the US military to develop the vehicle.[9]


The OmegA launch vehicle concept is a three-stage-to-orbit launch vehicle originally proposed by Orbital ATK (subsequently Northrop Grumman after the 2018 acquisition of Orbital ATK) that principally uses three different solid-propellant rockets to get to orbit, along with a hydrolox upper stage.

The OmegA design was 59.84 m (196.3 ft) with a 3.71 m (12.2 ft)-diameter first and second stages and a 5.25 m (17.2 ft)-diameter upper stage. There were intended to be two version of the main rocket stack, plus variable 2 to 6 SRBs attached to the first stage to assist with the entire variety of NSSL reference orbits.[1]

The design payload for the primary DoD missions that it was being aimed at was 4,900 kg (10,800 lb) to 10,100 kg (22,300 lb) to GTO with the "Intermediate" version and 5,250 kg (11,570 lb) to 7,800 kg (17,200 lb) to GEO with the "Heavy" version.[1]

Multiple configurations

The rocket was to have had two basic configurations, an intermediate and a heavy launch. Both configurations would have had a minimum of two thrust vectoring GEM-63XLTs for roll control. The intermediate version was to have had a two-segment solid rocket booster (SRB) first stage, a single segment SRB second stage, and a liquid hydrogen-fueled third stage, while the heavy configuration would have a 4-segment SRB first stage, and the same upper stages.[1] Additional versions could conceivably have added additional SRBs as side boosters with the SRBs sharing avionics suites with other Orbital ATK rockets to reduce costs.[18]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f "OmegA Factsheet" (PDF). Northrop Grumman. Archived from the original (PDF) on 5 August 2019. Retrieved 24 October 2019.
  2. ^ "Orbital ATK". Archived from the original on 22 August 2020. Retrieved 17 April 2018.
  3. ^ a b Erwin, Sandra; Berger, Brian (16 April 2018). "Orbital ATK selects Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL10C for newly christened OmegA rocket". SpaceNews. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  4. ^ Irene Klotz (24 May 2016). "Orbital planning new rocket to compete for U.S. military launches". Yahoo Finance. Reuters. Archived from the original on 15 December 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  5. ^ a b Erwin, Sandra (26 October 2019). "Northrop Grumman to launch OmegA rocket from ULA's Delta IV pad at Vandenberg". Spaceflight Now.
  6. ^ a b "General James B. Armor". The Space Show. Episode 2804. 31 October 2016. Archived from the original on 12 March 2017. Retrieved 10 March 2017.
  7. ^ a b Mike Gruss (13 January 2016). "Orbital ATK, SpaceX Win Air Force Propulsion Contracts".
  8. ^ Erwin, Sandra (10 October 2018). "Air Force awards launch vehicle development contracts to Blue Origin, Northrop Grumman, ULA". Archived from the original on 11 October 2018. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  9. ^ a b c d e Berger, Eric (7 August 2020). "In a consequential decision, Air Force picks its rockets for mid-2020s launches". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 8 August 2020. Retrieved 8 August 2020. the fate of Northrop's Omega rocket [is unclear as it] appears unlikely to have a path forward without guaranteed income from military launch contracts.
  10. ^ a b c Erwin, Sandra (7 August 2020). "Pentagon picks SpaceX and ULA to remain its primary launch providers". SpaceNews. Archived from the original on 21 September 2020. Retrieved 8 August 2020.
  11. ^ a b Erwin, Sandra (9 September 2020). "Northrop Grumman to terminate OmegA rocket program". SpaceNews. Retrieved 9 September 2020.
  12. ^ Wall, Mike (11 February 2015). "Orbital ATK, Merger of Orbital Sciences and ATK, Begins Operations". Archived from the original on 19 April 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  13. ^ Jenkins, Dennis R. (2016). Space Shuttle: Developing an Icon – 1972–2013. Specialty Press. p. III-347. ISBN 978-1-58007-249-6.
  14. ^ Bergin, Chris (7 December 2005). "ATK win CLV contract". Archived from the original on 30 January 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2020.
  15. ^ Jason Rhian (7 December 2013). "One-on-One with ATK's Charlie Precourt about composite materials and NASA's Space Launch System". SpaceFlight Insider. Archived from the original on 8 November 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  16. ^ Stephen Clark (21 April 2016). "Orbital ATK eyes Kennedy Space Center as home of potential new launcher". Spaceflight Now. Archived from the original on 6 November 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  17. ^ Jeff Foust (10 March 2017). "Orbital ATK expects decision on new rocket by early 2018". SpaceNews. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  18. ^ a b James Dean (6 April 2017). "Orbital ATK optimistic about proposed KSC rocket". Florida Today. Archived from the original on 27 November 2018. Retrieved 4 January 2019.
  19. ^ "Acquisition of Orbital ATK approved, company renamed Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems". SpaceNews. 6 June 2018. Retrieved 10 September 2021.
  20. ^ Reim2018-06-07T22:26:19+01:00, Garrett. "Northrop Grumman completes acquisition of Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion". Flight Global. Retrieved 10 September 2021.((cite web)): CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  21. ^ Sandra Erwin (10 October 2018). "Air Force Awards Launch Vehicle Development Contracts to Blue Origin Northrop Grummand ULA". Space News. Archived from the original on 11 October 2018. Retrieved 11 October 2018.
  22. ^ Emre Kelly (30 May 2019). "Anomaly after Northrop Grumman successfully test fires Omega rocket in Utah". Florida Today. Archived from the original on 30 May 2019. Retrieved 30 May 2019.
  23. ^ Smith, Jeffrey L. (13 July 2020). "CSI: Rocket Science". The Space Review. Archived from the original on 22 August 2020. Retrieved 13 July 2020.
  24. ^ Berger, Eric (12 August 2019). "Four rocket companies are competing for Air Force funding, and it is war". Ars Technica. Archived from the original on 15 August 2019. Retrieved 21 August 2019. The bet by Northrop is that the US military, through its national security launch contract, would want to support one of the nation's most critical suppliers of solid-rocket motors for intercontinental ballistic missiles. Northrop officials have not said whether they would continue development of the Omega rocket if Northrop were to lose out on the Air Force contract.