Has Aerojet Rocketdyne lost engine race with Blue Origin?


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Aerojet Rocketdyne financial documents suggest that it has given up the bidding competition with Blue Origin to supply a rocket engine for ULA’s Vulcan rocket.

The latest financial release from aerospace manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne reveals that the company spent none of its own money on development of the AR1 rocket engine this spring. Moreover, the quarterly 10-Q filing that covers financial data through June 30, 2018 indicates that Aerojet may permanently stop funding the engine with its own money altogether—a sign the company has no immediate customers.

Although Aerojet will continue to receive some funding from the US military through next year to develop its large, new rocket engine, this money won’t be enough to bring it to completion. Instead of having a flight-ready engine for use by the end of 2019, the filing indicates that Aerojet now intends to have just a single prototype completed within the time frame.

Essentially this means ULA will have no choice but to pick Blue Origin’s engine, unless the Air Force pulls its weight and demands it take Aerojet rocketdyne, even if that means a significant delay before Vulcan can launch.

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3 comments

  • Tom Billings

    Remember also, that if the proposed Space Development Agency takes over technical development as a precursor of part of the new Space Force, then the Air Force and its political connections with the patron of AJR will be less capable at keeping AR-1 alive. Even the Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee will require time to build strings into an entirely new hierarchy. Also, the singular point remains that AR-1 remains a KeroLOX engine. To use it ,ULA has to completely redesign Vulcan from its 5.4m diameter.

    Right now, for Senator Shelby to keep AR-1 alive, he will have to find another contractor to use more expensive AR-1 engines on a newly designed launcher, build contacts inside the new Space Development Agency to fund it with exclusively government funds. Then he’d have to keep both the new contractor and the SDA on board for however long he is in office. That’s a tall order even for his level of power in the Senate. Worst case would be that Boeing and LockMart decide to give up building launchers all together and just keep their more lucrative satellite-building businesses, which are outside Alabama, and would leave ULA with nothing more than a date till the last RD-180 is flown, and then fold their tent, because BoeingSS&D and LockMart just keep taking all ULA’s profits. That means Alabama doesn’t even get Blue Origin’s plant in Alabama, because there’s no Vulcan program to order engines from it.

  • Kirk

    Minor nit:
    > Also, the singular point remains that AR-1 remains a KeroLOX engine. To use it ,ULA has to completely redesign Vulcan from its 5.4m diameter.

    That’s what I would have expected as well, but Tory Bruno says otherwise, that they’d keep the same diameter, and almost the same length, as while the RP-1 is slightly more dense, methane allows for a common bulkhead between tanks.

  • Richard M

    “Worst case would be that Boeing and LockMart decide to give up building launchers all together and just keep their more lucrative satellite-building businesses, which are outside Alabama, and would leave ULA with nothing more than a date till the last RD-180 is flown, and then fold their tent, because BoeingSS&D and LockMart just keep taking all ULA’s profits.”

    Unfortunately, this is likely what is going to happen.

    It’s telling that ULA has been forced to hold off on announcing the engine. ULA’s stakeholders clearly have been holding off until they see the new DoD launch awards. Their interest in ULA has only been as a pipeline for easy, non-competitive government payloads. With those days at an end, so is their interest in sustaining ULA.

    Or it could be that Vulcan gets a green light, but neither it nor ULA stick around, once Blue Origin is fully in the game. Odds are that by the late 2020’s, virtually all medium and heavy lift launches in the United States will be handled by SpaceX and Blue Origin.

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