An official with Orbital ATK has said the company is confident that it will land a contract with the U.S. Air Force by early 2018 to advance the development of a large space launch vehicle, Space News reported Wednesday.
“I think we're pretty confident we're going to make the [Launch Service Agreement] downselect“ for the Next Generation Launch program, Mike Laidley, vice president of NGL program at Orbital ATK, told Space News at the 33rd Space Symposium in Colorado.
Jeff Foust writes Orbital ATK and the Air Force have invested $200 million combined in the NGL initiative in an effort to build a replacement vehicle for the United Launch Alliance-built Atlas V rocket.
The service branch aims to issue a request for proposals for the LSA by the summer of 2017 and plans to award up to three LSAs in 2018 to facilitate the development of vehicle prototypes and certification flight tests, Foust reported.
Orbital ATK expressed confidence on the LSA after it started production work on development hardware for the launch vehicle and concluded design reviews for solid rocket propulsion systems as part of the NGL program.
The company expects the NGL rocket to perform launches from a multi-user pad at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Laidley said the NGL rocket will use liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen to power the upper stage and solid motors for its lower two stages, including a Castor 300 single-segment motor for the vehicle's second stage.
He added the company has begun to consider two different engines and expects to decide as soon as May on its preferred engine for inclusion in its proposal to the Air Force's space and missile systems center, the report stated.