Northrop Grumman's OmegA rocket is under development for a first launch in spring of 2021. Image courtesy of Northrop Grumman


ORLANDO, Fla., (UPI) Defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp. is on schedule for testing of its next-generation rocket, the OmegA, despite the challenges of operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, a company executive said.

Northrop’s OmegA program is the company’s entry in a four-way competition with SpaceX, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance to provide new launch services for military satellites.

“We’re fortunate to be in a position where we can keep working, despite some problems with obtaining materials from our supply chain,” Charlie Precourt, Northrop’s vice president and general manager of propulsion systems, said in an interview last week.

Northrop employees in Utah are assembling the rocket while wearing protective gear. They also have built mock-ups of the rocket’s components to test shipment and reception of the hardware at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

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Northrop workers modified part of NASA’s huge Vehicle Assembly Building to accommodate the new rocket. They also renovated one of NASA’s three mobile launch platforms to fit the OmegA rocket while rolling to the launch pad.

“We have sent everyone home that can work from home — all those who work with computer software and systems,” Precourt said. “Those who have to operate the heavy equipment on-site are taking precautions.”

Northrop Grumman reported in March that an employee in Florida tested positive for COVID-19, but that was at its office campus in Melbourne, about 40 miles south of the space center. The company did not answer questions about virus tests among the OmegA team.