Aerojet complete PDR on next-gen Upper Stage engine turbopump

by Chris Bergin

Based on a request from the US Air Force, a new Upper Stage engine – to ultimately replace the RL-10 used by the Atlas V and Delta IV – has made another advance, as Aerojet – one of the competitors to win the contract to debut the engine in 2017 – noted they that have completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of their proposal’s turbopump assembly.

Next Gen Engine:

The effort was kick-started by the Air Force’s Request For Information (RFI) over a year ago, which noted it was seeking an Upper Stage engine utilizing modern design and manufacturing methods, while it was to be expected that the new engine will demonstrate state-of-the-art operating margin and reliability and minimize life-cycle costs.

The target for replacing the RL-10 – which is used in various forms with Atlas’ Centaur Upper Stage (RL-10A-3) and Delta IV’s Upper Stage (RL-10B-2), and has a history back to the Saturn I’s S-IV Stage – is 2017, as much as the Air Force notes the RL10 meets all current requirements.

The RL-10 engine has reached the end of the road from an upgrading standpoint, as would be expected for a design which reaches back into a 50 year heritage.

The mainstay rockets of the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program are run by the United Launch Alliance (ULA), while the RL-10 is manufactured by Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne – who are deep into testing and hot firing their new J-2X Upper Stage engine, which was being designed for the Ares launch vehicles, prior to switching to the Space Launch System (SLS).

Pratt & Whitney were last heard to be assembling what they are classing as the “RLXX” demonstrator rig as part of a route towards a pathfinder engine as per the Air Forces interest. However, Aerojet released information on Monday noting they had successfully completed a major milestone in the development of a ground demonstrator for the Next Generation Engine (NGE) program.

“Aerojet, along with its partner Florida Turbine Technologies, Inc. (FTT), recently completed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) of the turbopump assembly before an Independent Review Team comprised of third party turbomachinery experts,” noted the release.

Florida Turbine Technologies – who are headquartered in Jupiter, Florida where it employs over 200 turbomachinery experts – specializes in the design, development, manufacture, and test of turbomachinery components and systems for aircraft engines, space propulsion, and industrial gas turbines.

Aerojet also noted they had been preparing for a new LOX/hydrogen competition for many years, mirroring noises from within the Californian company with regard to the upcoming booster competition for long-term use on SLS – of which they will take a liquid RP-1 booster option to go head to head with ATK’s five segment Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) – the latter of which will debut with the SLS in 2017.

“We continue to make steady progress on a modern, all-U.S. LOX/hydrogen upper stage engine which will significantly reduce U.S. launch vehicle propulsion costs and improve performance,” said Aerojet’s Vice President of Space and Launch Systems, Julie Van Kleeck on the EELV Upper Stage engine.

“We are looking forward to a future open NGE competition that focuses on modern and affordable design and manufacturing approaches that are critical to long-term launch vehicle propulsion sustainability. It has been decades since there has been an open engine competition in this country which has not been good for U.S. competitiveness or its propulsion industrial base.

“Today, unfortunately, we fly a mix of costly old technology and foreign engines, neither of which will allow the U.S. to maintain Space Access Leadership. A competitively procured NGE will have a very significant positive effect on the U.S. propulsion industrial bases’ competitiveness and Aerojet will provide a compelling solution to this challenge.”

The strong wording of Aerojet’s release comes not long after SpaceX made loud noises over their wish to see their Falcon 9 launch vehicle fleet break into the Atlas and Delta EELV market, as they work on an implementation plan, ahead of the Air Force’s publication of a new entrant certification guide.

As far as the Atlas and Delta Upper Stage engine’s future options, the Aerojet/FTT team added that on top of the PDR, they had successfully built and tested the Upper Stage Engine Technology (USET) hydrogen pump at the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

The USET program is an AFRL Integrated High Payoff Rocket Propulsion Technology (IHPRPT) program that started in 2003 and is focused on the next generation of physics-based modeling and simulation design tools to reduce design time, lower cost and increase fidelity for the next US upper stage engine.

Aerojet also noted that other recent foundational LOX/hydrogen programs include the Liquid Engine Test Bed and the Integrated Powerhead Demonstrator, which were produced for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) and for the AFRL respectively.

They added that critical tooling, as well as sea-level and altitude test sites for NGE, are already in place at Aerojet or at its partner companies, while they took the opportunity to add the company has executed or shared in more than 40 different programs that have generated dozens of discrete design and manufacturing technologies that are now being incorporated into the company’s low-risk NGE design.

Aerojet are also working on the AJ-26 (Aerojet AJ26) engines, to be used by the Taurus II launch vehicle.

(Images: Via NASA, L2 and Aerojet.  To join L2, click here:

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