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Northrop Grumman’s rocket development reaches new heights

When you think of a rocket launch, you probably imagine a glistening white cylinder emerging from a cloud of smoke and fire making its way into outer space. But while the sight of a launch may only last a few minutes, not many see the dedication, long hours and incredible team effort that made it all possible.

“It’s not the hardware or the software–it’s the people on the launch vehicle team and their expertise that are the keys to our continued success,” said Mark Ogren, director of strategy and technology, launch vehicles, Northrop Grumman.


Launch vehicles, commonly referred to as rockets, come in all shapes and sizes. Each rocket is designed, developed, and cared for by hundreds of people all with the common goal of providing an affordable and fast solution, culminating in a successful mission. Building a rocket takes incredible technical skill as well as patience, precision and testing.


And then it’s time for liftoff.


When asked if he’s nervous before a launch, Ogren stated he sleeps well the night before liftoff. “Because we have the right experience, completed all the rigorous testing, and have the right team in place, we have confidence in the product and know we will have a successful launch,” said Ogren.


3… 2… 1... Liftoff!

Northrop Grumman has 60 years of experience in the launch vehicles business and the breadth of the company’s rocket development expertise—from interceptors to space launch vehicles—is unmatched by others in the private sector.


Northrop Grumman’s origins in the launch business goes back to 1963. At the time, the company was focused on developing and launching small unguided rockets—designed to provide cutting edge services for a variety of customers. Some of Northrop Grumman’s first successful launch ventures included building special purpose rockets for the Department of Defense (DoD) and producing scientific research rockets for civil space customers, among other experimental efforts.


The next decade brought new opportunities for the company to expand its launch portfolio and set itself apart in the industry. In the 1970s, the company started developing payloads and conducting missile defense research for the DoD.

“At the time, we were conducting some of the first Attitude Control System tests as well as testing early capabilities that eventually became core components of missile defense systems used around the world today,” said Ogren.


The following decade, the company continued to work on unguided rockets and moved into producing some of the first guided launch vehicles with its Starbird vehicle. In addition, the company was starting to support countermeasures and building unguided targets for the DoD.


Through the 1990s and 2000s, Northrop Grumman’s launch business continued to soar—accomplishing key industry milestones including delivering the first privately developed air launch vehicle; producing launch vehicles using government furnished excess asset motors from the Minuteman and Peacekeeper programs; and providing a majority of the guided targets used by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA), among other efforts.


With over six decades of experience in the launch vehicles business, Northrop Grumman has accumulated a long list of accolades, but there are a few ingredients that are core to the company’s success.

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