PROMONTORY Utah, (ABC4 News) – The roar of a rocket engine was heard in Promontory as Northrop Grumman did the first ground test on the new epoxy motor for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur Rocket. It is called the GEM 63 XL.
The Utah test firing is one of two required before the motor can be used on the new Vulcan Centaur. You can watch the test below, with a new drone aerial shot above the rocket.
Although it was 90 degrees Thursday, the purpose of the test was cold conditions. Northrup Grumman cooled the motor down in the test facility to 40°F to fire, a 50°F difference.
What is a GEM rocket engine? It’s a strap-on motor that burns solid propellant and helps power and augments the lifting strength of the rocket’s first stage. By rocket standards, GEM’s are lower cost and more efficient than previous motor designs.
The Vulcan Centaur is a new rocket from the United States, sometimes it is confused with the Vulcan-Hercules that is from Russia. The Vulcan Centaur is used to launch satellites and is a partially re-usable vehicle. This new engine is to help provide the rocket with additional lift.
The original GEM 63 is 66-feet long and the new GEM 63XL version is 72-feet long.
According to a press release from Northrup Grumman, the new motor generated 449,000 LBS. of thrust during the test.
“Our new GEM 63XL motors leverage its flight-proven heritage while utilizing state-of-the-art manufacturing technology to enhance launch vehicle heavy-lift capabilities,” said Charlie Precourt, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. “The GEM 63XL increases thrust and performance by 15-20 percent compared to a standard GEM 63
During the test, the motor fired for 90 seconds. The test is part of the process to qualify the motor’s internal insulation, propellant grain, ballistics, and nozzle in a cold-conditioned environment.
The test also demonstrated materials and technologies similar to the GEM 63 rocket motor that qualified for flight last year.
Northrop Grumman has been involved with the ULA and its heritage companies for launch vehicles since 1964. This type of strap-on motors was first developed in the 1980’s to support Delta rockets. The companies GEM 46 and GEM 60 motors were 100 % successful for all 86 motors that flew.
The new Vulcan Centaur is the replacement for the Atlas and Delta rockets.