Aerojet Rocketdyne finishes the first AR1 rocket engine assembly


The manufacturing of the first AR1, a revolutionary rocket engine sponsored by the United States Air Force, has been done by the Aerojet Rocketdyne. The firm has no buyers for this engine yet and aims to sell it in launch vehicles that are medium-sized for the first-stage boosters. At the large engine assembly plant of Aerojet Rocketdyne, situated at the NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, the AR1 was constructed. “The next phase is to evaluate it,” Jim Maser, senior vice president of Aerojet, informed SpaceNews on January 11. Congress approved $15 million to evaluate massive kerosene engines at the Stennis in the 2021 defense plan.

The financing is not expressly assigned to AR1. The firm expects the finances would be used to evaluate its recent engine, Maser stated. AR1, which has a 500,000-pound thrust, is the first oxygen-rich phased kerosene combustion engine of such a class developed in the United States, Maser added. The organization initially produced the engine with the United States Air Force’s support as a potential substitute for Russian RD-180 which drives the Atlas 5 rocket of the United Launch Alliance’s first stage. After Congress ordered the U.S. Air Force to stop its dependency on the Russian engines, the military awarded Aerojet a contract for production, evaluation and validation of the AR1 for over $800 million in the year 2016.

After the ULA opted to go for a different engine; Blue Origin’s BE-4, to operate the first phase of its latest Vulcan rocket, the deal was later decreased to $350 million. Aerojet persisted with the production of the AR1 after having lost the ULA contract and now claims it has a prospect in the launch vehicle market, which is medium-sized. Last year, the firm signed a deal with the start-up company Firefly Aerospace for the potential use of AR1 engine in the prospective launch vehicle of the Firefly for lifting the medium-sized payloads. The United States Space Force will remain a significant demand driver. 

The service began market analysis on the next-generation launch vehicles a previous year and may probably invest some time this decade in the medium-size launch capability. If the military is committed to this market, private interest would undoubtedly follow. Having a trial stand at the Stennis would be the next challenge for the AR1. The centre is currently mainly researching hydrogen engines, but one of its test stands will have to be reconfigured to suit a kerosene engine such as AR1. Aerojet Rocketdyne is in the course of being purchased by the Lockheed Martin. Neither firm may comment on exactly how the purchase will impact AR1.