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Northrop Grumman Builds a New Solid Rocket Motor in Less Than a Year, Fires It Up

Making rocket engines (and motors) is a time and resource-consuming affair. There is no set standard for how long the arrival of a successful such a product needs to take, but one only needs to look at the rocket motors currently in operation, be it for powering spaceships or missiles, to realize new such things do not come across very often in this industry.
Northrop Grumman fires rocket motor developed in under a year 6 photos
Photo: Northrop Grumman
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So hearing about Northrop Grumman developing a new solid rocket motor in under a year, and already conducting the first static test fire of the thing, is something worth talking about.

The defense contractor/aerospace specialist has been running a program called SMART Demo for some time now. SMART is an acronym for Solid Motor Annual Rocket Technology Demonstrator, and the name is quite revealing.

The program is not meant to come up with a new piece of rocket technology per se (although such an outcome would probably not be ignored by the company), but to show the industry and Northrop's own customers how things like new technologies, materials, and manufacturing technologies and processes could forever change this rather static field of human activity.

For instance, for the rocket we're discussing now, Northrop used additive manufacturing (which is the fancy, new, and fashionable way of saying 3D printing) for the motor's nozzle structure.

It also used a new and cost-effective, solid rocket propellant that can work at cold temperatures, and finally used alternative suppliers and new materials to shorten and speed up the supply chain.

All of the above led to a reduction in the motor's development time of about 75 percent, allowing Northrop Grumman to move from the drawing board to static test fire in less than a year.

Sadly for us, the ones who love to see specs and numbers accompany such announcements, we're told absolutely nothing of what the motor achieved while being tested, what kind of application (if any) it is meant for, and if it would ever move into production.

Northrop Grumman did however say it plans to run the SMART Demo program on a yearly basis as it tries to speed up the design, development, and build of rocket motors. And there are quite a lot of them coming our way in the near future.

The company is presently working on no less than five new rocket motors at the same time. That's a premiere even for a company this size but it doesn't even come close to how the future is shaping up in the decade ahead. Again, we are provided no details on the capabilities of these systems, and not even a glimpse of whether they're meant for civilian or military use.

Hopefully, announcements such as this one will be accompanied in the future by a bit more data on each of these new rocket motors.
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Editor's note: Gallery shows various rockets.

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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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