Tag Archives: Aerojet Rocketdyne

More evidence ULA will pick Blue Origin over Aerojet Rocketdyne

In a press interview published in late July, a ULA executive confirmed that the company is going to pick Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for its new Vulcan rocket.

ULA used a Russian engine for its expendable Atlas V booster but has long relied on U.S. suppliers such as Aerojet Rocketdyne. For Vulcan’s reusable engine, ULA is turning to Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin. The company’s cutting-edge BE-4 is powered by liquid natural gas instead of kerosene or liquid hydrogen.

By partnering with a startup like Blue Origin, ULA gains other advantages. “There is a world of difference between the culture at Blue Origin and the culture at Aerojet Rocketdyne,” said [Dr. George F. Sowers, ULA’s vice president for advanced programs]. “We knew we could absorb some of their culture by osmosis, just by working with them.” That influence shows up in cross-team collaboration. “We are literally breaking down walls to create a ‘Silicon Valley’ workspace,” Sowers said.

Sowers is very careful to say nothing about the Atlas 5 and the engine that will replace the Russian engine in its first stage. ULA originally signed its deal with Blue Origin with the Atlas 5 in mind, but has not made a final decision between Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne because Congress appears to favor Aerojet Rocketdyne’s engine, and Congress is a very big gorilla you do not upset. However, their development plans for Vulcan are incremental and closely linked with the Atlas 5. They plan to introduce Vulcan piecemeal in various upgrades of Atlas 5 as they go, so if they are set on using Blue Origin’s engine in the Vulcan rocket, it probably means that they plan on using it to replace the Russian engine in Atlas 5. This interview appears to confirm this.

Aerojet Rocketdyne gets NASA contract for cubesat engine

The competition heats up: Aerojet Rocketdyne has signed a contract with NASA to develop a small thruster engine for use on cubesats.

The MPS-130 green propulsion system will allow CubeSats and SmallSats to increase their capabilities, such as extending mission life, increasing architecture resiliency, maneuvering to higher and lower orbits, and performing complex proximity operations and formation flying. The use of additive manufacturing also reduces the number of parts and amount of time required to fabricate and assemble the modular propulsion system, lowering the cost of small satellites for private and public operators. Under the contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will deliver a fully-integrated MPS-130 green modular propulsion system for flight demonstration, as well as conduct development and validation testing.

The press release does not say how much money NASA is providing. Regardless, this is a great opportunity for Aerojet Rocketdyne, because the smallsat industry is I think about to take off, and at the moment these tiny satellites lack any useful technology for maneuvering. Up until now they were mostly designed as temporary short term satellites built mostly to teach students. Soon, however, there will be a lot of privately-built commercial smallsats launched, designed to make money. Being able to sell their builders a thruster that could prolong their life and make them more capable will give Aerojet Rocketdyne a product that will certainly sell like hotcakes.

Congress micro-manages rocket engineering again

In an effort to funnel money to Aerojet Rocketdyne at the cost of every other rocket company in the nation, the House Armed Services Committee has written a bill that tells the Air Force exactly how it will build its future rockets.

“The Committee shares the concern of many members that reliance on Russian-designed rocket engines is no longer acceptable,” the committee said April 25. “The Chairman’s Proposal, as recommended by Chairman Rogers of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, denies the Air Force’s request to pursue the development, at taxpayer expense, of new commercial launch systems. It instead focuses on the development of a new American engine to replace the Russian RD-180 by 2019 to protect assured access to space and to end reliance on Russian engines. The Mark also holds the Air Force accountable for its awards of rocket propulsion contracts that violated the FY15 and FY16 NDAAs.”

…“The funds would not be authorized to be obligated or expended to develop or procure a launch vehicle, an upper stage, a strap-on motor, or related infrastructure,” says a draft of the 2017 defense authorization bill.

As presently written, the bill would leave the Air Force only one option: use engines built by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

If anything demonstrates the corruption or foolishness of our elected officials, it is this proposal. Not only are they telling the Air Force how to design rockets, they are limiting the options so much that they are guaranteeing that it will either cost us more than we can afford, or it won’t be doable at all. As I say, either they are corrupt (working to benefit Aerojet Rocketdyne in exchange for money), or they are foolish, (preventing the Air Force from exploring as many inexpensive future options as possible).

Aerojet Rocketdyne pitches its AR1 rocket engine to reporters

The competition heats up: At a space conference this week Aerojet Rocketdyne pitched its AR1 rocket engine, still under development, as the ideal replacement for the Russian engine in the Atlas 5.

The U.S. Air Force awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a contract in February worth up to $534 million over five years to certify and start delivering flight-ready AR1 engines in 2019. Aerojet Rocketdyne says it already has kicked in $70 million, with its total investment expected to exceed $250 million over the life of the contract.

Van Kleeck, vice president of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s advanced space and launch business unit, said the Air Force contract — the largest of several propulsion-related awards the service has made in recent months — is a sign of the Air Force’s confidence in the AR1’s ability to provide an expedient replacement for the RD-180 engine the Defense Department is under pressure from Congress to stop using.

United Launch Alliance, however, has anointed Blue Origin’s methane-fueled BE-4 engine as the front runner to replace the RD-180 by serving as the main engine for the Denver company’s next-generation rocket Vulcan.

“The AR1 engine can fly both on an Atlas and Vulcan and it’s the only engine that can do so,” Van Kleeck said.

Aerojet has been losing business to the newer commercial space companies like Blue Origin, and desperately needs to find a customer for the AR1. In the long run the Air Force contract won’t suffice, as it really is no more than government corporate welfare and cannot sustain them as a company. This press conference was part of that effort.

NASA picks Aerojet Rocketdyne engine for SLS upper stage

Government in slow motion: Only six years after program start, NASA has finally chosen Aerojet Rocketdyne’s legacy RL10 rocket engine for the upper stage of the SLS rocket.

The RL10 is an expander cycle liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen rocket engine typically used on upper stage applications. It was first developed by Pratt & Whitney in the late 1950s and first flown in 1963. It has flown on hundreds of launches, logged approximately 15,000 hot fires, and accumulated more than 2.3 million seconds of hot fire operation time with a demonstrated reliability ratio greater than 0.999 throughout its history. The RL10 – which is used in various forms with Atlas’ Centaur Upper Stage (RL10A-4-2) and Delta IV’s Upper Stage (RL10B-2) – has a history back to the Saturn I’s S-IV Stage.

No other engine exists that can be built in time. Even so, the engine will not be ready for the first SLS launch tentatively scheduled in 2018, but will instead be used on the next two flights. The article also indicates that NASA is planning to delay SLS’s second flight two years to 2023, creating a five year gap which they will use to integrate the RL10 into SLS, while also rebuilding the mobile platform used to move SLS to the launchpad. (For some reason, the reconfiguration installed for the first SLS flight won’t work for later flights.)

The delay to 2023 has not been announced officially, but I have seen too much evidence recently, including statements in this GAO report, that tells me the delay is certain. Furthermore, it seems increasingly likely that the second flight will also be unmanned, and it won’t be until the third flight (as yet unfunded by Coingress) that humans will finally fly on SLS.

The cost? I am doing an analysis of this subject right now for a policy paper I am writing for a Washington think tank, and my preliminary estimate exceeds $41 billion for NASA to fly just one manned flight of SLS. That’s a bit more expensive than the $10 billion NASA is paying SpaceX, Orbital ATK, and Boeing to launch more than a dozen cargo freighters and as many as a dozen manned flights to ISS.

For those elected officials out there who have trouble with math, let’s compare again:

  • SLS: $41 billion for one flight, 15 years development to first flight.
  • Commercial space: $10 billion for two dozen flights, 5 years development to first flight.

Which costs less and gives more bang for the buck? Can you figure that out, Congressmen and Senators? If you need help I can provide you a few more fingers so you can count above ten.

ULA head rejects his engineer’s remarks about Aerojet Rocketdyne

The heat of competition: The head of ULA has disavowed his engineers’ remarks that plugged Blue Origin’s engine for the Atlas 5 while dissing Aeroject Rocketdyne’s.

The engineer was giving a talk at the University of Colorado this week where he made it pretty clear that ULA favors Blue Origin over Aerojet Rocketdyne, but had to make believe they were treating both companies equally in the competition to replace the Atlas 5’s Russian engines in order to keep the Air Force happy. Bruno is probably now doing some damage control, as the government still wants to justify the Aerojet Rocketdyne contract (whose only real purpose was as a government pork barrel jobs program). Considering all the money the Air Force and congressmen give to ULA, he has to keep them both happy. And telling the world that their Aerojet contract is a waste of government money is not a very good way to do this.

Nonetheless, he also admitted that Blue Origin is way ahead in development, and is thus most likely to win the competition anyway.

Free government money for Aerojet Rocketdyne!

Crony capitalism: Even though ULA prefers Blue Origin’s engine for its Atlas 5, the Air Force continues to fund Aerojet Rocketdyne’s new engine.

The U.S. Air Force announced Feb. 29 it was investing $115 million this year, and with options, as much as $536 million over the next five years, in [Aerojet Rocketdyne’s] AR1, a new liquid oxygen- and kerosene-fueled main-stage engine. The contract award is part of an Air Force initiative to end reliance on the Russian-built RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s Atlas 5 workhorse rocket.

Aerojet says it has two potential other customers to use the engine, but will not name them. In reviewing the field, the only customer I can think of that might be interested would be Orbital ATK (for its Antares rocket), and even there I have doubts. Thus, it appears to me that these funds are really being distributed to prop up a company that is failing, not to build anything useful the government needs.

Air Force awards contracts for American rocket engine

The competition heats up: The Air Force today awarded developmental contracts worth $160 million total to both Aerojet Rocketdyne and the partnership of ULA/Blue Origin for the development of an American-built rocket engine to replace the Russian engines in the Atlas 5 rocket.

Here is the ULA press release.

Aerojet Rocketdyne gets Boeing rocket engine contract

The competition heats up: Boeing has awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a $200 million contract to build the propulsion system for the service module for its manned Starliner capsule.

Unlike the big contract NASA gave Aerojet to restart its shuttle engine production line, this contract is for engines that will actually fly in space and accomplish something.

NASA contracts Aeroject Rocketdyne to build shuttle engines for SLS

The competition heats up? NASA has awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne a $1.4 billion contract to restart production on the space shuttle engines, with the intent to use those engines for its hoped-for missions beyond Earth orbit using the Space Launch System (SLS).

Normally I am thrilled when an American company gets a contract to build rocket engines, but here I have my doubts. This contract will only produce deep space engines if Congress gives NASA the money to fly SLS on deep space missions. Right now, Congress has only given NASA just enough money to fly one, maybe two SLS missions, with the second not coming until 2024 at the earliest. My impression of this contract award thus is that it is not to produce engines, but to keep Aerojet Rocketdyne from going bust, since no one else has been interested recently in buying their engines. In other words, it is pork, government money handed out in order to keep the people who work for Aerojet employed.

This is not the way to become a space-faring society. Better Aerojet Rocketdyne goes bust and the good engineers that work for it find jobs with companies making products that people want. Then, the government money can be spent wisely on things that we will eventually want and use, instead of make-work projects that accomplish nothing.

Antares failure wipes out Aerojet’s 2nd quarter profits

The settlement between Orbital ATK and Aerojet Rocketdyne over the failure of an Aerojet Russian engine that failed during an Antares launch has wiped out Aerojet’s entire second quarter profit.

The Rancho Cordova rocket engine maker reported a $38.1 million quarterly loss Tuesday, largely the result of a spectacular launchpad explosion last October that forced Aerojet to pay a hefty settlement to a key customer and prompted the end of a profitable supply contract. Aerojet, which has embarked on a cost-cutting program, said the third-quarter loss came to 62 cents a share. It compared to a year-ago loss of $9.9 million, or 18 cents a share.

The company’s stock has also been declining, probably linked to its loss of business to Blue Origin.

Development of Blue Origin’s BE-4 rocket engine moves forward

The competition heats up: Blue Origin has completed more than 100 development tests of its new BE-4 rocket engine, being developed for ULA.

Much of this announcement sounds like public relations blather. However, it contained this nugget of information that is crucial to understanding why this engine is likely to get built quickly:

The BE-4 engine is also the leading candidate to be used in the first stage of ULA’s Vulcan vehicle. Speaking to reporters after the Sept. 15 Florida event, Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos said that while he was aware of competing engines for the Vulcan, like the AR-1 under development by Aerojet Rocketdyne, he was focused on completing the BE-4. “We’re going to build the best 21st century engine that we can for ULA,” he said. “Ultimately they will make the decision about what they want to do.”

Bezos also noted that, unlike the AR-1 or other concepts, Blue Origin was not seeking funding from the U.S. Air Force to help pay for development of the BE-4. “The most unique feature of the BE-4 engine is that it’s fully funded,” he said. “It’s not something you see in rocket engine programs very often.” [emphasis mine]

Aerojet Rocketdyne wants the government to pay for its new AR-1 engine. To get that done, they need to lobby Congress for funds that are simply unreliable in these days of budget-cutting. Moreover, it means that Aerojet Rocketdyne is not fully committed to the engine: if the funds don’t arrive they won’t build it.

Blue Origin is going forward, fully committed, and will likely deliver, if only because they can’t get their investment back until they do.

Aerojet is considering increasing its $2 billion offer to buy ULA

The competition heats up: A news report today suggests that Aeroject Rocketdyne is considering increasing its $2 billion bid to buy ULA, thus forcing that company to use its rocket engines rather than Blue Origin’s.

The article contains a lot of information that helps explain the background behind Aerojet Rocketdyne’s offer as well as ULA’s recent switch to Blue Origin. For one thing, ULA apparently dumped Aeroject because the company refused to invest any of its own money in developing a new rocket engine.

Last summer, Aerojet’s board also rejected ULA’s request that Aerojet invest $300 million to accelerate work on the AR-1 engine it is developing as an alternative to the Russian RD-180 engine that powers ULA’s Atlas V rocket, the sources said. … Aerojet’s refusal to invest more in the AR-1 engine ultimately drove ULA to opt for the BE-4 engine being developed by privately held Blue Origin, which is owned by Amazon.com founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos, the sources said.

More significant, it appears that the Rocketdyne portion of the company is owned by the Russians!

An Aerojet takeover of ULA would also require Russia to give its regulatory approval and transfer a technology license for use of the RD-180 engines, according to two of the sources. Russia refused to transfer the license to Aerojet when it bought Rocketdyne from Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Corp (UTX.N) unit in 2013, forcing Pratt to retain control of a small company that brokers RD-180 sales, and could be more reluctant to do so now, the sources said.

While the quote above is somewhat confusing, it certainly suggests that, with Congress banning the use of Russian-built engines in American rockets, using Aerojet Rocketdyne engines by ULA has become problematic.

In related more bad news for Aeroject Rocketdyne, the company has just agreed to pay Orbital ATK $50 million in connection with last year’s Antares launch failure. In addition, they will take back the Russian-built engines they refurshed and sold to Orbital. The agreement also ends the company’s part in Antares.

ULA and Orbital ATK ink new rocket motor contract

The competition heats up: ULA has signed a new contract with Orbital ATK to provide solid rocket motors for its Atlas 5 and Vulcan rockets.

This deal is another nail in the coffin of Aerojet Rocketdyne, as it strongly suggests that the corporate leadership at ULA is very uninterested in doing any business with that rocket engine builder. Recently they have been taking their business every where but to Aerojet.

ULA rejects Aerojet Rocketdyne $2 billion bid to buy company

The competition heats up: Boeing today said that it has rejected Aerojet Rocketdyne’s $2 billion bid to buy ULA, the Boeing/Lockheed launch partnership.

“The unsolicited proposal for ULA is not something we seriously entertained,” Boeing spokesman Todd Blecher said. Boeing said it remained committed “to ULA and its business, and to continued leadership in all aspects of space, as evidenced by the agreement announced last week with Blue Origin,” a company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos that is designing the engine for a new rocket being designed by ULA.

Lockheed declined comment, saying it did not discuss transactions with other companies. A source familiar with the matter said Lockheed’s refusal to comment did not reveal any disagreement between Lockheed and Boeing, and both companies agreed to reject the bid.

This might not end the issue, as Aerojet Rocketdyne officials might still follow up with a more formal proposal.

Aerojet Rocketdyne lobbies its rocket engines to Congress and ULA

The competition heats up: Officials at Aerojet Rocketdyne yesterday lobbied hard for Congress and ULA to finance and buy their new AR-1 engine, designed to replace the Russian engines used in the Atlas 5 rocket.

More here, including the threat by those officials that the development of the engine could slip past 2019 if Congress doesn’t give the company more money.

The first comment at the bottom of the page of the first article above I think possibly outlines some of the reasons behind Aerojet Rocketdyne’s bid to buy ULA.

The development of the Blue Origin BE-4 is underway, and a launch vehicle like the proposed Vulcan would certainly be an asset to national security and commercial space development. But, as was stated, such a LNG/LO2 vehicle would need a different infrastructure to support it. ULA’s Atlas V is the most mature and reliable [launch vehicle] we have. The problem with it is a political one, because of its using the Russian RD-180 engine. From what has been published, plugging the BE-4 into an Atlas V is a non-starter; the BE-4 is meant for the Vulcan…if ULA can obtain funding on something more than a per-quarter schedule! Aerojet-Rocketdyne’s AR-1 would be a more logical choice to replace the RD-180, BUT…ULA won’t release the Interface Control Documents (ICD’s) to Aerojet-Rocketdyne. Hence, AR’s attempt to buy ULA.

ULA and Blue Origin sign new agreement

The competition heats up: ULA and Blue Origin have signed a new agreement expanding the production of Blue Origin’s BE-4 engine for ULA’s new Vulcan rocket.

This agreement and the timing of its announcement, one day after news leaked that rocket engine manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne is making a bid to buy ULA, suggest that there are people in ULA that want to make sure the agreements with Blue Origin are set in stone should the purchase comes true.

Aerojet Rocketdyne makes $2 billion offer to buy ULA

The competition heats up: Rocket engine-maker Aerojet Rocketdyne has reportedly made a $2 billion offer to buy the rocket company United Launch Alliance (ULA), a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed.

If this deal goes through, it will put the squeeze on Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, which presently has a contract to build rocket engines for ULA. Aerojet Rocketdyne had wanted that contract and had lost out. If they buy ULA, they could then kick Blue Origin out and take on the contract themselves.

I am honestly not sure what to make of this whole thing, however. It could be that Aerojet, having lost a number of contracts and faced with a significant lose in business, has decided it needs to become a rocket company to survive. It could also be that the corporate heads of ULA have decided that the company’s effort to replace its Delta and Atlas rockets with Vulcan is too risky, and they are better off taking the cash and running.

Or it could be any number of other reasons. We shall have to wait and see how this plays out.

Aerojet Rocketdyne faces the possible loss of most of its business

In the heat of competition: Because of a combination of increased competition, launch failures, political decisions, and quality control questions, the rocket company Aerojet Rocketdyne could lose almost all of its rocket customers in the next few years.

Link fixed! (Once again caused by trying to post while sitting in the passenger seat of the car and typing on a tiny tablet.)

Aerojet Rocketdyne to cut costs and streamline operations

The competition heats up: In renaming itself from GenCorp to Aerojet Rocketdyne, the company also announced today a four year program to cut costs and reduce its workforce by 10%.

It appears that most of the cuts will come from upper management, which suggests the company has identified fat it needs to get rid of in order to compete effectively in the re-energized aerospace industry.

Aerojet Rocketdyne says it can replace the Russian rocket engines used by American rockets for $20 to $25 million per engine.

The competition heats up: Aerojet Rocketdyne says it can replace the Russian rocket engines used by American rockets for $20 to $25 million per engine.

Including legacy systems and various risk-reduction projects, Aerojet Rocketdyne has spent roughly $300 million working on technologies that will feed into the AR-1, Seymour said during a June 3 roundtable with Aviation Week editors. The effort to build a new, 500,000-lb. thrust liquid oxygen/kerosene propulsion system would take about four years from contract award and cost roughly $800 million to $1 billion. Such an engine is eyed for United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas V rocket as well as Orbital’s Antares and, possibly, Space Exploration Technology’s Falcon 9 v1.1.

This is roughly the same price cited for the cost of standing up U.S. co-production of the RD-180 engine, which is manufactured by NPO Energomash of Russia and sold to ULA for the Atlas V through a joint venture with Pratt & Whitney.

Unfortunately, this announcement is part of a lobbying effort to get Congress to fund the new engine rather than a commitment by Aerojet to build it themselves. Thus, I fully expect them to go over budget and for the engine to cost significantly more once in production, facts that will make it less competitive in the future.