United Launch Alliance (ULA) has awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a multi-year contract valued at more than $2bn for increased production of its 63-inch-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63) solid rocket booster and the extended length variation (GEM 63XL).
The award, which supports Amazon’s Project Kuiper and additional ULA customers, includes both an increased production rate and significant facility expansion. This will enable Northrop Grumman to increase capacity and allows for the modernisation of current and new state-of-the-art facilities and tooling.
Speaking about the contract, Wendy Williams, Vice President of Propulsion Systems at Northrop Grumman, said: “Northrop Grumman’s GEM 63XL is the longest monolithic, single-cast solid rocket booster ever produced. Built on decades of expertise, our newest GEM motors provide customers with an affordable, repeatable and reliable product they can trust to boost their most important missions.”
The company began the development of the fourth- and fifth-generation GEM strap-on boosters in 2015 under a cooperative agreement with ULA to provide additional lift capability for the Atlas V and Vulcan launch vehicles.
The GEM 63 solid rocket booster flew its inaugural flight on ULA’s NROL-101 mission in November 2020. To date, 13 GEM 63 boosters have supported four Atlas V launches, with nine more scheduled to support three more Atlas V launches in 2022. Each booster contributes 371,500 pounds of additional maximum thrust to the launch vehicle, and up to five boosters can support an Atlas V launch.
The GEM 63XL booster is scheduled to support ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket later this year in the extended length variation’s first flight. Each booster will contribute 463,249 pounds of additional thrust to the rocket, and as many as six boosters can be used on a single launch to support the vehicle’s heavy-lift capabilities.