Orbital and ATK form space flight super group

by Chris Bergin

Orbital and ATK have merged forces to form a joint company that will combine the talents and resources of two well-known space industry stalwarts. To be known as Orbital ATK Inc. – the deal will give birth to a new Global Aerospace and Defense Systems Company that will result in the further merging of synergies with their respective space hardware.

Orbital ATK Inc:

While Tuesday’s announcement was heavily angled at investors and the financial market, the initiation of the merger is aimed at a combination of forces that may result in some interesting and positive implications for the space hardware both companies currently run separately and together.

With a focus on affordability, the merger is targeting a stronger foothold in the increasingly competitive space market.

The financial side of the deal will result in a tax-free stock-for-stock merger-of-equals transaction, valued at approximately $5.0 billion based on current stock prices, combining Orbital’s small- and medium-class satellite and launch vehicle product lines with ATK A&D’s rocket propulsion, composite structures and space power systems.

The deal is also being portrayed as enhancing ATK A&D’s strategic and tactical missile systems and propulsion, precision weapons and military armament, and commercial and military aircraft programs by leveraging Orbital’s systems design, engineering and integration capabilities to provide greater value-added to current and future customers.

Z6“This merger-of-equals combination of Orbital and ATK Aerospace and Defense brings together two of the space and defense industry’s most innovative developers and cost-efficient manufacturers who have worked closely together for over 25 years,” noted Mr. David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer, and who will be President and Chief Executive Officer of the new company.

“By building on complementary technologies, products and know-how and highly-compatible cultures, the new Orbital ATK will deliver even more affordable space, defense and aviation systems to our existing customers and be strongly positioned to expand into adjacent areas.”

Z4Both companies are extremely well known in the space business, with Orbital sporting a deep history of not just launching payloads, but building them too.

The Virginia-based company has been the developer and manufacturer of small and medium-class Space Systems for the past three decades, serving customers in Commercial, National Security and Civil Government Markets.

Many of the satellites that are lofted uphill on various launch vehicles were born at Orbital’s facilities, while a fleet of their own rockets have been busy carrying out missions.

ATK is an aerospace, defense and commercial products company with operations in 22 states, Puerto Rico and internationally – best known in the space business as the producer of solid rocket motors, which launch – and have launched – on several launch vehicles, most famously assisting the Space Shuttle through first stage flight for 30 years.

“ATK’s Board of Directors and management team continuously evaluate opportunities to best position the company to drive value for its shareholders,” added Mark W. DeYoung, President and Chief Executive Officer of ATK.

“This transaction presents a compelling opportunity to position and build strong, durable and focused enterprises that deliver innovation, execution excellence and enhanced opportunities for our customers, partners and employees, and thereby deliver long-term shareholder value.”

Z85Notably, the two companies already have a deep relationship, ranging from the past, present and into the future. Over 400 rocket motors from ATK have been utilized on 150 Orbital vehicles.

“Orbital has been a customer of ATK for more than 25 years; we are familiar with each other and each company’s capabilities, and our respective cultures share a commitment to innovation and excellence,” added Mr DeYoung.

“This alignment provides a solid opportunity to deliver great products to our customers at affordable prices with the opportunity to capture significant synergies.”

Z8The most obvious current association is with Orbital’s Antares rocket, which now utilizes ATK’s Castor 30B upper stage, which – during the ORB-1 launch – replaced the less powerful Castor 30A used for the previous two Antares missions.

The 30B will itself be soon replaced with an even more capable Castor 30XL.

The CASTOR 30XL will allow for the eventual transition towards the launch of extra cargo on a larger Cygnus Spacecraft. The “enhanced” Cygnus is scheduled to fly the last five CRS missions, boosting payload capacity to 2,700 kg.

Screenshot from L2 video of CASTOR 30XL static fireThe CASTOR 30XL solid rocket motor is 92 inches in diameter, 236 inches in length and weighs approximately 58,000 pounds.

The nozzle is eight feet long with a submerged design with a high performance expansion ratio (56:1) and a dual density exit cone well suited for high altitude operation.

According to L2 information, ATK have wasted little time since test firing the test motor at the Arnold Engineering Development Center in Tennessee in 2013, with three CASTOR 30XLs constructed and ready to be used by Orbital.

Pegasus II released, via L2Orbital and ATK are also working together on the ambitious Stratolaunch system.

Stratolaunch is based on a collaboration between inventor, investor and philanthropist Paul G. Allen and Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan, which created a rocket system that would be launched from a giant carrier aircraft, portrayed as having a wingspan of 385 feet, making it the largest airplane, by wingspan, to ever fly.

The launch vehicle that will ride with the Stratolaunch carrier aircraft is being designed by Orbital, after taking over the project when Stratolaunch and SpaceX – the initial provider of the rocket – parted ways.

Pegasus II during the climbExclusive details (L2) note the Orbital rocket, tagged as Pegasus II, will have a GLOW of 485,000 lbs resulting in a payload capability to Low Earth Orbit of 13,500 lbs.

The first and second stages are made from “carbon-composite wound” cases, with the same outside diameter as the Shuttle Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) segments.

These two stages will sport additional performance via an updated propellant mix, under development by ATK.

Pegasus II Staging 1-2, via L2The contract from Orbital includes the design, development and flight hardware for initial Stratolaunch missions and expands on their partnership that dates back to the development of Orbital’s original air-launched vehicle, Pegasus, which also uses ATK solid rocket motors for stage propulsion.

Per the additional details provided to L2, the rocket will also have a Thrust Vector Control (TVC) system on both the first and second stages – unlike Pegasus, which does not have a TVC on its first stage.

The first two stages will act like a single first stage, given they will provide half of the required Delta-v. However, new information notes the first stage may also be recoverable after staging and splashdown.

During the announcement it was noted the merged company will be looking into areas of interest that are now a viable proposition, such as work on an advanced ICBM and Satellite Servicing.

“This is the kind of merger, often sought, but rarely found,” added Mr. Thompson.

(Images: L2’s Special Sections, Orbital, ATK and NASA)

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