Space Launch Report:   Orbital ATK Next Generation Launch
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ngl39b.jpg (21742 bytes)Orbital ATK Next Generation Launch
(By Ed Kyle, 12/14/2017)

Vehicle Configurations

Vehicle Components

NGL Launch History

Orbital ATK Illustration Shows NGL 500 Series Vehicle (a 521 Variant) on Mobile Launcher at KSC LC 39B.

After the 2015 Orbital ATK merger, the new company began studying Next Generation Launch (NGL) system designs.   It combined internal funding with a U.S. Air Force contract won in late 2015 to begin development of a new, large diameter composite case "Common Booster Segment" (CBS) solid motor that would power a new family of intermediate and large-class orbital launch vehicles.  The work was part of a wider U.S. effort meant to replace U.S. dependance on Russia's RD-180 engine. 

The U.S. Air Force provided an initial $46.9 million, with a maximum of up to $180.2 million, for work on Common Booster Segment, new solid boosters for ULA's Vulcan rocket, and for an extendible nozzle for the Blue Origin BE-3U LH2/LOX engine that would power the NGL upper stage.   Orbital ATK pledged an initial $31.1 million for the effort, with a maximum of up to $124.8 million.  Together, Orbital ATK and the U.S. Air Force spent more than $200 million on NGL during 2015-2017. 

During April, 2017, Orbital ATK announced that it had completed design reviews, facility upgrades, tooling fabrication, and had begun buiding development hardware for NGL  It had refurbished a 60,000 square-foot production building in Utah, an effort that included installation of automated tooling, cranes and other equipment to produce the large diameter motors.  The company had manufactured prototype motor test articles that were to be used in verification tests during the summer of 2017.

NGL would be built around a series of modular solid rocket motors, each composed of one or more Common Booster Segments.  The composite case motors would be roughly the same diameter (3.71 meters) as the existing steel-case STS/SLS Solid Rocket Booster motors.  A single-segment Castor 300 motor would serve as the second stage of all variants.  A two-segment Castor 600 motor would power the intermediate NGL 500-series first stage.  A four-segment Castor 1200 motor would serve as the first stage of the heavy-class NGL 500XL variant.  The Castor 300 and 600 motors had completed their critical design review by early 2017.  Plans called for them to be static test fired in 2019. 

nglb.jpg (13092 bytes)NGL Illustrations

GEM-63XL (63 inch diameter) strap-on solid motors, also being developed to power ULA's new Vulcan rocket, would augment first stage thrust.  Each GEM-63XL would weigh about 50 tonnes and would produce about 187 tonnes of liftoff thrust.  Up to six GEM-63XL motors could be added.

A 5.25 meter diameter LH2/LOX third stage, likely powered by a Blue Origin BE-3U engine derived from that company's proven New Shepard engine, would perform orbital insertion.  Orbital ATK would build its own tank assembly for the stage.  The company was expected to make a final engine supplier selection by mid-2017. 

The new rocket would incorporate avionics from Orbital ATKs existing Pegasus, Minotaur, and Antares programs.  Payload fairing options would include a 5.25 x 15 meter standard fairing and, for 500XL, a 5.25 x 20 meter extended fairing.     

NGL 500 series rockets would lift 5.5 to 8.5 tonnes to GTO, depending on the number of GEM-63XL motors.  NGL 500XL would boost 5.25 to 7 tonnes directly to GEO, also depending on the number of strap-on motors.   In the rocket model numbering scheme, the second digit would refer to the number of SRMs while the third digit would refer to either the number of third stage engines or to the type of third stage.  The baseline model with no SRMs would be NGL 501.

NGL would launch from Kennedy Space Center's LC 39B and eventually from a rebuilt VAFB SLC 2.  The vehicle would share LC 39 facilities with NASA's Space Launch System, helping to alleviate costs.  Orbital ATK believed that NGL could be profitable on three to four missions per year. 

The company planned to compete NGL for Air Force Launch Services Agreements in early 2018.  This contract would lead to full vehicle and launch site development, leading to a first launch in 2021.  Work would initially take place at Promontory and Magna, Utah, at Iuka, Mississippi, at Chandler, Arizona, and at Kennedy Space Center, Florida.

On December 13, 2017, Aviation Week reported that Orbital ATK had decided not to use Blue Originís BE-3U engine to power NGL's upper stage. The company was reportedly considering Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL10 and ArianeGroup's Vinci as replacement options. †

Vehicle Configurations (Estimated)

(metric tons)
(metric tons)
(metric tons)
Configuration LIftoff
(metric tons)
(no payoad)
NGL 500 - 5.5 to 8.5 t - Castor 600 + Castor 300 + Cryogenic Stg 3 + 5x15m PLF (Optional GEM-63XL SRMs) ~50 m ~440 t?
NGL 500XL - - 5.25 to 7.0 t Castor 1200 + Castor 300 + Cryogenic Stg 3 + 5x15m or 5x20m PLF (Optional GEM-63XL SRMs) ~68-73 m ~720 t?

Vehicle Components

Stage 1
Castor 600
Stage 1
Castor 1200
Stage 2
Castor 300
Stage 3
Diameter (m) 1.55 m ~3.71 m (est) ~3.71 m (est) ~3.71 m (est) 5.25 m 5.25 m
Length (m) 19.224 m ~25 m (est) ~43 m (est) ~12 m (est) ~9 m (est) 15 or 20 m
Empty Mass (tonnes)   ~22 t (est) ~44 t (est) ~11 t (est) ~ t (est)  t
Propellant Mass (tonnes) ~46.3 t (est) ~250 t (est) ~500 t (est) ~125 t (est) ~ t (est) -
Total Mass (tonnes) ~50.24 t (est) ~272 t (est) ~544 t (est) ~136 t (est) ~ t (est) -
Engine GEM-63XL Castor 600 Castor 1200 Castor 300 TBD -
(SL tons)
~187 t (est) t t t - -
(Vac tons)
~138 t (est) t t t 54.43 t (est) -
ISP (SL sec) 245 s s s s - -
ISP (Vac sec) 275 s s s s ~440 s (est) -
Burn Time (sec) 90 s s s s s -
No. Engines 1 to 6 1 1 1 1

NGL Launch History

 Date     Vehicle      No. Payload           Mass  Site   Orbit
NN/NN/NN  NGL          NN  NNNNN             NNN   NN NN  NNN



Next Generation Launch System Brochure, Orbital ATK, 2017