Orbital ATK OmegA Vying For US Air Force Funding: Can It Compete With SpaceX And Others?


A bunch of space agencies are competing for funding from the U.S. Air Force, including SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, and Orbital ATK, which has now submitted its proposal to the military.

OmegA is Orbital ATK's answer to the U.S. Air Force's search for satellite launchers with homegrown propulsion systems, a move that aims to end the U.S. military's reliance on Russia's RD-180 rocket engine. Joining OmegA is the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10, which will power the vehicle's upper stage.

Orbital ATK Introduces OmegA

The OmegA is Orbital ATK's official candidate booster to launch military satellites for the U.S. Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. The name represents Orbital ATK's name, with the uppercase "A" and "O" supposedly stand-ins for "Orbital" and "ATK," as Space reports. It is also a shoutout to Omega Centauri, which is the largest star cluster in our very own Milky Way. This follows the company's pattern of naming rockets after stars.

The rocket could launch as early as 2021, but Orbital ATK, as mentioned, is vying for military funding along with other space agencies. Tech Times previously reported that Jeff Bezos's space company, Blue Origin, is posited to be included in the slate. There are enough spots, though, to accommodate most of them — the U.S. Air Force says it will make up to three funding awards. However, it will pick just two companies in 2019 for the final funding phase, which will involve launch services development.

Artist concepts for the OmegA rocket illustrate two RL10 engines on the rocket's third stage. The new rocket variant selected to fly on the OmegA is called RL10C-5-1, which is a modification of the RL10C-1 engine currently on the ULA Atlas 5 rocket.

"By selecting the RL10, Orbital ATK is able to leverage investments made by the U.S. Air Force and others to build resilient space launch capabilities for our nation," said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO Eileen Drake.

Boosters, Second And Third Stages

As mentioned, the OmegA's third stage will be powered by RL-10C engines. Meanwhile, it will have a solid-rocket booster derived from the company's boosters for NASA, while either the Castor 300 or Castor 600 solid-rocket motor will power its second stage. OmegA can carry a payload of up to 22,266 pounds to geostationary transfer orbit, but less so in geostationary equatorial orbits.

The company has used $250 million over the past few years to develop OmegA, and there are plans to spend even more to further develop its boosters and flight certification. The next development phase is poised to occur once the U.S. Air Force finalizes its funding selection.

The question is if it can compete with the likes of SpaceX, a company that has seen significant success recently with its Falcon Heavy rocket.

What's more, it already has a great relationship with the U.S. military. Just this March it was announced that the U.S. Department of Defense awarded SpaceX a $290 million contract for three Air Force missions.

The competition will be tough, but Orbital ATK's flight systems head remains optimistic.

"Our OmegA rocket provides the best combination of performance, affordability and reliability to support the range of our customer's mission requirements."

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