Northrop Grumman validates new ULA rocket motor

Northrop Grumman validates new ULA rocket motor

GEM 63XL rocket motors will help launch United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket.

January 22, 2021

Northrop Grumman Corp. has conducted a validation ground test of an extended length 63" diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63XL) in Promontory, Utah. This variation of the company’s GEM 63 strap-on booster was developed in partnership with United Launch Alliance (ULA) to provide additional lift capability to the Vulcan Centaur rocket.

Charlie Precourt, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman, said, “Evolving the original GEM 63 design utilizes our decades of GEM strap-on booster expertise while enhancing capabilities for heavy-lift missions.”

During the static test, the motor fired for approximately 90 seconds, producing nearly 449,000 lb of thrust to validate the performance capability of the motor design. Additionally, this firing verified the motor’s internal insulation, propellant grain, ballistics, and nozzle in a hot-conditioned environment.

Northrop Grumman has supplied rocket propulsion to ULA and its heritage companies for a variety of launch vehicles since 1964. The GEM family of strap-on motors was developed starting in the early 1980s with the GEM 40 to support the Delta II launch vehicle. The company then followed with the GEM 46 for the Delta II Heavy, and the GEM 60, which flew 86 motors during 26 Delta IV launches before retiring in 2019. The first GEM 63 motors supported ULA’s Atlas V rocket in November 2020.