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Northrop Grumman Investigates Anomaly from 1st OmegA Rocket Motor Test

A powerful new rocket showed its stuff today (May 30) during a dramatic ground test that didn't go exactly as planned.

Aerospace company Northrop Grumman fired the first stage of its OmegA launcher this afternoon for the first time, at the company's facility in Promontory, Utah. Near the end of the 122-second burn, part of the booster's nozzle appeared to explode, sending pieces flying far and wide.

Despite this unintended "observation," today's trial went well, Northrop Grumman representatives said. The rocket motor performed normally and generated the prescribed 2 million lbs. of maximum thrust, they stressed.

Related: 3 Huge New Rockets Are on Track for 1st Test Flights in 2021

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The first stage of Northrop Grumman's OmegA rocket fires for the first time during a full-scale ground test in Utah on May 30, 2019.

The first stage of Northrop Grumman's OmegA rocket fires for the first time during a full-scale ground test in Utah on May 30, 2019.
(Image credit: Northrop Grumman)
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Pieces of the nozzle on Northrop Grumman's OmegA rocket first stage fly during a full-scale ground test in Utah on May 30, 2019.

Pieces of the nozzle on Northrop Grumman's OmegA rocket first stage fly during a full-scale ground test in Utah on May 30, 2019.
(Image credit: Northrop Grumman)

OmegA Rocket Nozzle Apparently Damaged During Test

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The nozzle on the first stage of Northop Grumman's OmegA rocket just after the full-scale firing on May 30, 2019.

The nozzle on the first stage of Northop Grumman's OmegA rocket just after the full-scale firing on May 30, 2019.
(Image credit: Northrop Grumman)

OmegA Rocket Nozzle Apparently Damaged During Test


"What we observed today was a successful test," Kent Rominger, OmegA vice president at Northrop Grumman, said during a telecon with reporters after today's test. "It appears everything worked very, very well."

Everything, that is, except the nozzle's aft exit cone, a portion of which did "something a little strange that we need to go further look into," Rominger said.

It's too soon to speculate about what exactly caused the issue with the exit cone, he added. 

"This is why you test," Rominger said. "We'll go dig into this data."

Northrop Grumman plans to conduct a similar test of the OmegA second stage this fall.

The Virginia-based company is developing OmegA to fly national-security and commercial missions. If all goes according to plan, the rocket will perform its first test flight in 2021 and begin operational launches the next year.

The three-stage OmegA will come in both an intermediate and a heavy-lift version. The heavy variant will be capable of lofting 17,200 lbs. (7,800 kilograms) to geostationary equatorial orbit, according to the OmegA fact sheet.

OmegA began as a project of aerospace company Orbital ATK, which was acquired by Northrop Grumman in 2018.

This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. EDT.

Mike Wall's book about the search for alien life, "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), is out now. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook

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