Russian Rockets No Longer an Option

Image (Credit): Antares rocket on the launch pad. (Northrop Grumman)

Northrop Grumman is switching from Russian-made rocket engines to U.S.-made rocket engines for its Antares rocket ships that bring supplies to the U.S. International Space Station (ISS). Russia has not shipped any engines since March following its invasion of Ukraine, so Northrop Grumman needs an alternative. It can fly two more missions with the Russian-made rockets in its inventory.

Firefly Aerospace in Texas will be able to meet these needs. In a press release, Northrop Grumman stated:

Firefly’s propulsion technology utilizes the same propellants as the current Antares rocket, which minimizes launch site upgrades. The Antares 330 will utilize seven of Firefly’s Miranda engines and leverage its composites technology for the first stage structures and tanks, while Northrop Grumman provides its proven avionics and software, upper-stage structures and Castor 30XL motor, as well as proven vehicle integration and launch pad operations. This new stage will also significantly increase Antares mass to orbit capability.

Fortunately, we have some redundancy in ISS cargo missions, with SpaceX able to pick up slack as necessary. In fact, Northrop Grumman will be contracting with SpaceX to handle three of its missions as it prepares for the new Antares system for mid-to-late 2024.