Northrop Grumman turns to Firefly Aerospace to replace Russian engines for its Antares rocket

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Northrop Grumman turns to Firefly Aerospace to replace Russian engines for its Antares rocket

On August 8, the two American companies Northrop Grumman and Firefly Aerospace announced their collaboration For the development of a new first stage for the Antares rocket by Northrop Grumman. The two companies also plan to design together a brand new launcher which will be able to send medium payloads into orbit.

This partnership means that Northrop Grumman will replace its current Antares rocketwho is made in Ukraine and uses Russian engines. Her replacement will be called Antares 330, and it will be able to carry heavier loads.

The Antares launcher
Credits Terry Zaperach/NASA

This collaboration with Firefly will enable Northrop Grumman to no longer depend on Ukraine and Russia regarding the components of its Antares rocket. This is mainly used to transport equipment to the International Space Station.

The effects of war

Currently, the Antares rocket is manufactured by two Ukrainian companiesand she is equipped with two Russian RD-181 engines. Since the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, a doubt has arisen concerning these components. Moreover, Russia has stopped selling its engines to American companies in response to sanctions imposed by the United States and other countries.

Initially, Northrop Grumman used refurbished Russian engines that were originally supposed to fly the N-1 moon rocket in the 1960s. Later, the company decided to replace them with RD-181 engines after an explosion during a launch in 2014.

When the invasion of Ukraine began, Northrop Grumman said they had enough engines and stages for 2 Antares rockets. The first of these rockets is scheduled to take off next October while the second will be launched in 2023. It is also known that the company has already purchased three flights aboard a rocket SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to send the capsule Cygnus to the ISS. This will be used to carry out missions until the Antares 330 is ready.

The characteristics of the Antares 330

According to the information revealed by the two companies, the Antares 330 rocket will be equipped with a first stage manufactured by Firefly. This floor will be equipped with 7 Miranda engines developed by Firefly. As far as the upper floor is concerned, it will always be the Northrop Grumman’s Castor 30XL using solid fuel.

The new rocket is expected to be ready by 2024, and it will be capable of placing into orbit loads with a weight of up to 10,500 kg, with the current version being able to carry a maximum of 8,100 kg. With this difference, the Cygnus capsule will be able to carry approximately 2,400 kg more to the ISS.

The two companies have not released financial details regarding this collaboration. Not much is known about the mid pitcher they plan to develop either. Either way, this is an important partnership for the US space industry.


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