Northrop completes early insulation, casing work for GBSD first-stage solid rocket motor

By Briana Reilly / November 17, 2021 at 10:29 AM

Northrop Grumman has performed initial insulation and casing work tied to the first-stage solid rocket motor for the new Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent, a step a company official called a “manufacturing milestone” for the modernization effort.

Completed in August and announced late last week, the efforts involved an insulation wind around a plaster tooling mandrel -- designed to protect the rest of the rocket from the motor’s hot temperatures -- and a case wind process, in which composite materials such as carbon fiber are wrapped around the insulation and hardened through the application of an epoxy to form the motor’s outer shell.

“This manufacturing milestone further demonstrates the maturity of our first-stage solid rocket motor design, manufacturing process, tooling and business systems,” Steve Lunny, the vice president of Northrop’s GBSD program, said in the release.

The work has cleared the way for Northrop to test and validate the first-stage motor’s tooling and manufacturing processes, in addition to pressure testing. Company spokesman Nathan Drevna told Inside Defense Tuesday that case tooling and manufacturing methods have been validated.

Meanwhile, officials have started on a similar insulation and case wind process for the second-stage motor, the release notes, though it’s unclear what the timeline is for wrapping up those efforts. Northrop is building the first and second stages of the three-stage solid rocket motor, while Aerojet Rocketdyne is working on the third stage case in Huntsville, AL.

Last month, Northrop opened a software development facility in Huntsville as officials push to launch the first GBSD test missile in the fourth quarter of 2023 and kick-start production in 2026.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers this week posted a notice requesting proposals to design and construct a stage processing facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base, CA, for GBSD test operations, including the assembly and installation of “critical mission abort equipment” to avoid interruptions to the Minuteman III ICBM test launch schedule.