Capitalism in space: An independent assessment of the development work being done by Blue Origin and Aeroject Rocketdyne on their competing rocket engines says that Blue Origin is still in the lead by two years, despite a testing incident in May.
The article also outlines how the present Air Force budget includes language that would prevent the Air Force from financing any part of ULA’s Vulcan rocket, other than the money presently being spent to subsidize Aeroject Rocketdyne’s AR-4 engine.
The competition heats up: In recent static fire tests of its new AR-1 rocket engine Aerojet Rocketdyne set a record for the highest chamber pressure for any American engine using oxygen and kerosene.
They hope to convince ULA to use this engine in its Atlas 5 rocket to replace the Russian engine they presently use. At the moment, though ULA has made no commitment, it appears however that the company is favoring Blue Origin’s engine instead. That Congress favors Aerojet Rocketdyne is their one ace in the hole, since Congress controls the purse strings.
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.