Northrop Grumman Rocket Motor

Northrop Grumman's "Flight Support Booster" is shown in a stand at the company’s facility in Promontory on Sept. 2, 2020.

PROMONTORY — In an ongoing effort to send the next man and woman to the moon, NASA continues to rely heavily on a facility tucked away in a remote stretch of Box Elder County, about 30 miles from the nearest town.

Northrop Grumman announced earlier this week it will continue supporting NASA’s Artemis missions by building six “abort motors and attitude control motors” for the Orion human spaceflight capsule under an agreement with Lockheed Martin, Orion’s prime contractor.

Northrop Communications Specialist Kay Anderson said the motors will eventually be used for six crewed Artemis missions and are the first procured under the new Orion production contract. The abort motor will be manufactured primarily at Northrop’s facility in Promontory, with some work also taking place in Clearfield and Magna. The attitude control motor will be produced in Maryland.

The motors are part of the space capsule’s “Launch Abort System,” which is designed to carry the Orion spacecraft and its crew to safety if an emergency occurs on the launch pad or during the rocket’s climb to orbit. The abort motor is built to provide thrust of about 400,000 pounds in less than two seconds to lift the crew away from the launch vehicle, according to Anderson. The attitude control motor would steer the Orion crew capsule away from the launch vehicle, allowing for a parachute deployment once the crew is clear of all hazards.

“There is nothing more important to me than ensuring crew safety to the greatest extent possible,” said Charlie Precourt, a former astronaut himself and current vice president of Northrop’s Propulsion Systems division.

Northrop’s Promontory site in Box Elder has been integral for work on the upcoming space missions.

In September, NASA and Northrop Grumman successfully completed a full-scale, static fire test of the Space Launch System rocket motor in Promontory. Known as the “Flight Support Booster,” the five-segment rocket motor fired for just over two minutes and produced 3.6 million pounds of thrust. Two of the boosters will be used for the Artemis program, through which NASA plans to land the first woman and the next man on the moon by 2024.

NASA officials have said the Box Elder testing site, which sits in the middle of Utah’s massive northwest desert area, and the nearby production facility are ideal for the sheer scale and magnitude of the Artemis program. According to a NASA press release, its $2.7 billion production contract with Lockheed (which includes the subcontract with Northrop and the abort motors) includes a commitment to order a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 Orion spacecraft, through Sept. 30, 2030.

“This contract secures Orion production through the next decade,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!