When people think of NASA’s crewed vehicles, they may assume that everything is developed and built in-house. Though that may be true for some components, the fact is that a large portion of the hardware that goes into the agency’s vehicles comes from commercial providers, like Aerojet Rocketdyne.
Aerojet Rocketdyne, and its precursor companies, has been supplying hardware for America’s space program from its earliest days through the Space Shuttle program. That trend will continue when the Space Launch System (SLS) makes its maiden flight in the latter half of 2018.
Though their iconic and dependable RS-25 and RS-68 engines represent ‘best of breed’ in first stage propulsion, the company also supplies some of the most widely-used upper stage power plants in the US launch fleet. The reliable RL10 has been in production, in some capacity, since 1959 and is still flown on both the Atlas V and Delta IV vehicles. Indeed, it was also selected to be the engine on both of SLS’s second stages – the single-engined Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) and quad-engined Exploration Upper Stage (EUS).
However, this is not the extent of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s involvement with SLS. In keeping with the mantra of “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it,” and the desire to use as much of the legacy hardware as was practical, the Orion Crew and Service Module (CSM) will utilize a repurposed Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engine from the Space Shuttle program: the AJ10-190.
Like the RL10 family of engines, the AJ10 has a pedigree stretching back nearly 60 years and served as the main propulsion unit on the Apollo CSM. As with the engine used during Apollo, the Orion CSM variant will perform orbital maneuver and return/deorbit burns. Additionally, it can be enlisted to help save craft and crew in a number of different abort scenarios, should the need arise.
Aerojet Rocketdyne is also working on other components important for crewed missions to Mars, including solar electric propulsion (SEP), deep space habitation, and systems supporting landing and ascent operations. The company’s efforts are deeply aligned with NASA’s Journey to Mars, which was echoed by Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake in a news release issued by the company.
“As a nation of explorers, we constantly look beyond the horizon, and Mars is the most logical place for humanity to expand our knowledge of the solar system,” Drake said.