November 23, 2015 – NASA selected Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, to restart production of the RS-25 engine for the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in the world. Four of the RS-25 engines will fly on the bottom of the core stage of the SLS rocket, together producing more than two million pounds of thrust to carry the Orion spacecraft and launch explorers on deep space missions.
“SLS is America’s next generation heavy lift system,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “This is the rocket that will enable humans to leave low Earth orbit and travel deeper into the solar system, eventually taking humans to Mars.”
The first flight test of the SLS is slated for 2018, and it will be configured for a 70-metric-ton lift capacity and carry an uncrewed Orion spacecraft. As SLS evolves, it will be the most powerful rocket ever built and provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons.
Part of NASA’s strategy to minimize costs of developing the SLS rocket was to leverage the assets, capabilities, and experience of the Space Shuttle Program, so the first four missions will be flown using 16 existing shuttle engines that have been upgraded.
Under the $1.16 billion contract, Aerojet Rocketdyne will modernize the space shuttle heritage engine to make it more affordable and expendable for SLS. The contract runs November 2015 and continues through September 30, 2024.
“The RS-25 engines designed under this new contract will be expendable with significant affordability improvements over previous versions,” added Jim Paulsen, vice president, Program Execution, Advanced Space & Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “This is due to the incorporation of new technologies, such as the introduction of simplified designs; 3-D printing technology called additive manufacturing; and streamlined manufacturing in a modern, state-of-the-art fabrication facility.”
The contract restarts the firm’s production capability including furnishing the necessary management, labor, facilities, tools, equipment and materials required for this effort, implementing modern fabrication processes and affordability improvements, and producing hardware required for development and certification testing.
The contract also allows for a potential future modification that would enable NASA to order six flight engines.
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, manages the SLS Program for the agency. Engine testing will be performed at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and the SLS will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems of Littleton, Colorado, is the prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.