Space Science and Exploration

Northrop Grumman is a leader in the science and exploration of space. From NASA's Pioneer Program to the James Webb Space Telescope, we've played an important role in the quest to answer compelling questions, from "How did we get here?" to "How do we make the Earth a better place?" for more than 60 years.

NASA's Pioneer Program

The following spacecrafts of NASA's Pioneer program were built by TRW, now part of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems.

Pioneer 1

Pioneer 1

The first spacecraft launched by NASA.

Pioneer 5

Pioneer 5

The first spacecraft to confirm the existence of interplanetary magnetic fields.

Pioneer 6

Pioneer 6

In 1995, recorded 30 years in space as the world's oldest operating spacecraft.

Pioneer 10

Pioneer 10

The first manmade object to leave our solar system.

Northrop Grumman's Vital Role in Apollo Mission Success

July 20, 1969: A historic day for America. While the world watched, astronaut Neil Armstrong took mankind's first steps on the moon. Years later, as the breathtaking success of NASA's Apollo 11 mission is remembered and celebrated, several heritage companies of today's Northrop Grumman are recognized for the vital roles they played in the achievement.

Lunar ModuleThe Lunar Module (or LM), the famed Eagle of the Apollo program, was designed, assembled, integrated and tested by Grumman Corporation, now part of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
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At its Bethpage, N.Y. facility, Grumman Corporation, now part of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, designed, assembled, integrated and tested the Lunar Module (better known as the LM), the famed Eagle of the Apollo program. Between 1969 and 1972, six Grumman lunar modules carried 12 astronauts to and from the surface of the moon and one – Aquarius – served as a lifeboat for three astronauts during the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

Ryan Aeronautical Company, also now part of Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, was awarded the contract to build the digital Doppler radar system installed aboard the Apollo Lunar Lander.

Apollo spacecraft parachute landing in waterApollo 9, with its Earth Landing System, moments before it lands in the ocean after its 1969 mission. (Photo courtesy of NASA)
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Our Mission Systems and Aerospace Systems business sectors were formerly part of TRW, the company that developed the lunar excursion module descent engine (LEMDE) for the Apollo missions. As NASA's official history of the Apollo hardware puts it, the LEMDE "probably was the biggest challenge and the most outstanding technical development" of the entire program. TRW also provided critical software for mission analysis and simulation, guidance and trajectory control, an abort guidance control, and a backup communications system.

In December of 1961, North American Aviation issued a contract to the Radioplane Division of Northrop Corporation to develop the Earth Landing System for their Apollo command module. This began a long process of design and testing before the three-parachute system was finalized. Radioplane, which became the Northrop Ventura Division in April of 1962, eventually produced every parachute recovery system for the Apollo program. According to records, these parachutes held the Apollo command module at 27.5 degrees so the module's slanted corner would penetrate the water first, lessening the impact force. Prior to the Apollo missions, Radioplane produced the parachute recovery systems for the manned Mercury and Gemini spacecraft.

Our Mission Systems sector, part of which was the defense and electronics business of Westinghouse, manufactured the camera used to broadcast the now famous images from the lunar surface to earth.

Lunar Module miniaturized black-and-white cameraInitially, the camera was attached to the modular equipment stowage assembly (MESA), which was lowered to a position off to the side of the module's ladder. After Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were on the moon's surface, the camera was placed on a tripod and moved to a location that would capture an overall view of activities. The engineer and the camera itself received television's prestigious Emmy award.

Technicians ready the Apollo Spacecraft’s Lunar Module Descent Engine (LEMDE)Technicians ready the Apollo Spacecraft’s Lunar Module Descent Engine (LEMDE), which landed the first astronauts on the moon in 1969. (Photo Northrop Grumman archives)
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Two other companies that are now part of the Mission Systems sector also made significant contributions to the mission. Dalmo-Victor designed and supplied the S-band 2-Gigahertz high-gain antennas that made possible the transmission of the live images from the moon's surface. Amecom Division of Litton Systems, Inc. produced flush-mounted antennas that transmitted and received all S-band signals during near-Earth operation and served as backup for the high-gain antenna in deep space. Four antennas were mounted on the command module.

Legacy Northrop provided the earth landing system that included the space vehicle recovery parachutes for Apollo 11. In addition, NASA has used the Northrop-built T-38A Talon jet aircraft extensively as trainers for astronauts.

Space Shuttle Solid Rocket Motors

Thiokol Chemical Company, now part of Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, developed the world's first reusable space propulsion systems for NASA's Space Shuttle program in the late 1970s. The most powerful solid rockets ever flown, two large-diameter RSRMs provided 80% of the lift-off thrust for each of the Shuttle's 135 launches from 1981 to 2011. After boosting the Shuttle to altitudes of nearly 30 miles and speeds of about Mach 5, the reusable solid rocket motors (or RSRMs) separated and returned by parachutes to the ocean approximately 125 miles downrange. Following their recovery and refurbishment, elements of the four-segment boosters were reused up to 12 times on subsequent Shuttle flights. Updated versions of RSRMs are now being produced at our Promontory, Utah facilities for NASA's new heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System, which is planned to carry astronauts on deep-space missions in the 2020s and beyond.

James Webb Space Telescope

NASA's James Webb Space Telescope — a technological leap in the mission to explore space — will peer into the past to a time when new stars and developing galaxies were first beginning to form, measuring and capturing images and spectra of galaxies that formed billions of years ago.

The Webb Telescope will also use its superb angular resolution and near-infrared instruments to discover and study planetary systems similar to our own, analyze the molecular composition of extrasolar planets' atmospheres, and directly image Jupiter-size planets orbiting nearby stars.

Before dreams of building the Webb Telescope could be realized, ten technologies that did not exist needed to be created and perfected.

Launch and Deployment

The James Webb Space Telescope Launch and Deployment video shows in-depth what will happen before and after the telescope is launched.

Into the Unknown

Into the Unknown tells the story of the building of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope — a revolutionary observatory, 100 times more powerful and the scientific successor to the Hubble Telescope.

Milestone Space Science Missions

Photos courtesy of NASA and the Northrop Grumman archives.