Northrop Grumman has completed the first ground test of a new rocket motor for the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a US-based spacecraft launch service provider.

Northrop Grumman tested a 63in-diameter Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM 63XL) in Promontory, Utah. The motor is a variation of Northrop Grumman’s GEM 63 strap-on booster and was jointly developed with ULA.

The GEM 63XL is expected to be used for ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket to boost its heavy-lift capabilities. During the static test, the motor fired for approximately 90 seconds, producing nearly 449,000lb of thrust.

Northrop Grumman propulsion systems vice-president Charlie Precourt said: “Our new GEM 63XL motors leverage its flight-proven heritage while utilising state-of-the-art manufacturing technology to enhance launch vehicle heavy-lift capabilities.

“The GEM 63XL increases thrust and performance by 15%-20% compared to a standard GEM 63.”

Since 1964, Northrop Grumman has been engaged in delivering rocket propulsion systems to ULA and its heritage companies.

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By GlobalData

The company started the development of GEM family of strap-on motors in the early 1980s.

It delivered GEM 40 for the Delta II launch vehicle followed by GEM 46 for the Delta II Heavy and the GEM 60 for Delta IV launches.

The GEM 63 motor is being used for a ULA Atlas V launch vehicle scheduled in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Earlier this month, Northrop Grumman and the US Space Force (USSF) concluded review for the Enhanced Polar System Recapitalization (EPS-R) Control and Planning Segment (CAPS) programme.