First Launch Using Three Motors Expected This Year
Northrop Grumman has delivered three of its 63in-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motors (GEM 63) for United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) ATLAS V rocket. The motors were shipped from Northrop Grumman in Magna, UT to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, where they will be used as strap-on boosters to augment thrust on ATLAS V.
The GEM 63 rocket motors were developed under a cooperative agreement with ULA. Each motor contributes a maximum thrust of 373,000lbs to the launch, with up to five GEM 63 able to support a single ATLAS V launch.
“Designing a drop-in solution for an existing vehicle is no easy feat,” explained Charlie Precourt, VP Propulsion Systems at Northrop Grumman. “As ULA’s largest legacy supplier, we have been providing rocket propulsion to ULA and its heritage companies since 1964.”
A series of motor ground tests beginning in September 2018 satisfied requirements for certification by the USAF and ULA. The first flight of ATLAS V using three GEM 63 motors is expected to launch later this year.
The GEM family of strap-on motors was developed starting in the early 1980s with the GEM 40, supporting 132 DELTA II launches. The company also developed the GEM 46, which used 54 motors to support six successful missions of the DELTA II Heavy. The GEM 60 came later, retiring with 100% success in August 2019 with 86 motors flown on 26 DELTA IV launches.
Northrop Grumman is once again evolving the GEM family, with the development of the GEM 63XL variant to support ULA’s VULCAN CENTAUR launch vehicle.