Aerojet Rocketdyne completes testing of Orion spacecraft auxiliary engines
Aerojet Rocketdyne recently completed hot-fire acceptance testing of eight auxiliary engines that will be used on the first flight of NASA’s Orion spacecraft with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. The flight, called Exploration Mission (EM) 1, is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in 2018. While EM-1 is planned as an uncrewed flight, NASA is currently studying the feasibility of sending astronauts on the mission.
The Orion spacecraft’s European Service Module (ESM) is being provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). The ESM, which will remain attached to Orion until just before the spacecraft’s re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, will provide propulsion, temperature control, air, and water for the spacecraft’s crew.
Aerojet Rocketdyne is providing the ESM’s eight auxiliary engines and is assisting Lockheed Martin with refurbishing the Orbital Maneuvering Subsystem (OMS) engine originally built by Aerojet Rocketdyne for the Space Shuttle which will be used as the main propulsion for ESM.
“The design approach that has power and propulsion provided by a separate service module traces back to the Apollo program,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “The auxiliary engines we are delivering to Lockheed Martin and NASA for the European Service Module provide a redundant capability to the OMS engine capability.”
The auxiliary engines of the ESM are based on Aerojet Rocketdyne’s R-4D design and will work alongside the main OMS engine to perform off-pulsing for steering and provide a redundant capability for the main engine. The auxiliary engines will be mounted in four pairs on the outside of the ESM. Each auxiliary engine provides 105 pound-force (467 newtons) of thrust and is capable of firing for more than 7,000 seconds in space.
Beginning over 40 years ago with the Apollo program, Aerojet Rocketdyne has built over 700 R-4D engines. Variants of the R-D have played vital roles in orbital-raising maneuvers of commercial satellites. They have also been used aboard robotic spacecraft that NASA uses to explore the Solar System, such as Cassini, which is studying Saturn and its moons.
In addition to its work on the ESM’s propulsion system, Aerojet Rocketdyne is also providing twelve 160 lbf (712 N) monopropellant engines for the Orion crew module’s reaction control system (RCS) and the jettison motor that is instrumental in separating the launch abort system from the Orion Crew module should a problem arise during launch.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.