How a rocket expansion in Utah will boost the world

Northrop Grumman plans massive additions in western Salt Lake County that will propel Space Force, NASA and Amazon’s Project Kuiper.

(Photo: Business Wire) Artist's concept of the Vulcan Centaur rocket from United Launch Alliance, one of the three heavy-lift launch providers Amazon selected for Project Kuiper. Northrop Grumman plans to expand its Utah operations to help propel this project.

What appeared on a Salt Lake County Council agenda this week as a routine rezoning request will help fuel a low-cost broadband option for underserved communities across the globe.

Council members voted unanimously Tuesday to reclassify 35 acres on the west bench from agricultural to manufacturing zoning, allowing aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman to expand its rocket motor manufacturing plant.

The growth of the Bacchus West plant, just outside of Magna, is primarily related to a contract with United Launch Alliance that was announced Wednesday.

The partnership, worth more than $2 billion, will supply boosters for United Launch Alliance rockets, which will in turn support the U.S. Space Force and NASA.

It also will benefit Amazon’s Project Kuiper, a constellation of satellites that promises to deliver affordable broadband around the world.

(Photo: Business Wire) Overhead of the New Glenn rocket from Blue Origin, one of the three heavy-lift launch providers Amazon selected for Project Kuiper (featuring a mock-up of the Amazon logo). Northrop Grumman plans to expand its Utah operations to help propel this project.

John Slaughter, senior director of commercial programs for Northrop Grumman’s space systems sector, said the agreement is a continuation of a decadeslong relationship between the companies.

“This cements that relationship,” he said, “for, I believe, many years to come.”

Northrop Grumman expects to spend $450 million on the Bacchus expansion, with most of that sum being spent within Salt Lake County and the state, Brian Tucker, interim planning supervisor for the Greater Salt Lake Municipal Services District, told council members.

The company says it anticipates creating about 200 long-term, high-tech manufacturing jobs.

To fulfill the contract, rocket motors will be produced at multiple Utah facilities, including Bacchus, Promontory and Clearfield. All of those facilities will grow to meet the heightened demand, the company said, but Bacchus will experience the largest expansion.

Northrop Grumman plans to construct nine new buildings in unincorporated Salt Lake County as part of the upgrade, with five of those located in the newly rezoned area.

The buildings in the rezoned area will be used for casting liquid fuels into rocket casings. The boosters then will be sent to a finishing building in neighboring West Valley City.

The company says it will produce new iterations of rocket boosters it already makes.

According to the county, the expansion will bring no new negative effects for the area and does not conflict with the recently adopted West General Plan. It does, however, create hurdles with grading, increased runoff and rerouting a stream that flows through the acreage.

“We’ve identified a number of significant challenges,” Tucker said, “but, to date, there’s been no indication that these potential impacts can’t be mitigated.”

The hazard zones that were already established around the plant will not change.

A groundbreaking is expected at the Bacchus site in August. Before the project can move forward, Northrop Grumman will need to secure a conditional use permit from the county.

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