The three motors were shipped from the Northrop Grumman facility in Magna to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, and will be used as strap-on boosters to augment thrust on Atlas V.
The GEM 63 rocket motors were developed under a co-operative agreement with ULA for the Atlas V vehicle. Each motor contributes a maximum thrust of 373,000 pounds to the launch with up to five GEM 63 motors being able to support a single Atlas V launch.
Charlie Precourt, vice president of propulsion systems at Northrop Grumman, said, "Designing a drop-in solution for an existing vehicle is no easy feat. As ULA’s largest legacy supplier, we have been providing rocket propulsion to ULA and its heritage companies since 1964 and we are pleased to continue our partnership with this new generation motor."
A series of motor ground tests beginning in September 2018 satisfied requirements for certification by the US Air Force and ULA. The first flight of Atlas V that will utilise three GEM 63 rocket motors is expected to launch later this year.
The GEM family of strap-on motors was developed starting in the early 1980s with the GEM 40, supporting 132 Delta II launches. The company also developed the GEM 46, which used 54 motors to support six successful missions of the Delta II Heavy.
ULA's Atlas V uses a standard common core booster, up to five solid rocket boosters (SRBs), a Centaur upper stage in a single- or dual-engine configuration, and one of several sizes of payload fairings.
Centaur is the world's highest-performing upper stage. The pressure-stabilised tanks combined with the lightweight Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10C-1 engine provides industry best thrust-to-weight ratio. The stage has demonstrated long-coast relight capability that enables it to service any orbital need.
Northrop Grumman later developed the GEM 60, which retired with 100 per cent success in August 2019 with 86 motors flown over 26 Delta IV launches. Northrop Grumman is once again evolving the GEM family with the development of the GEM 63XL variation to support ULA’s Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle.
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