Spaceflight Insider

Aerojet Rocketdyne completes AR1 preburner hot-fire test

Aerojet Rocketdyne tests a full-scale preburner for the AR1 engine. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Aerojet Rocketdyne tests a full-scale preburner for the AR1 engine. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Aerojet Rocketdyne announced on May 3, 2017, that it completed a hot-fire test of its preburner for the AR1 rocket engine at NASA’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. The company’s focus is to have an “American-designed and built” booster system that will replace the Russian-built RD-180 engines that are frequently used to launch U.S. national security, civil, and NASA payloads to orbit.

The goal is to create a low-cost, affordable propulsion solution that could be competitive in the world marketplace.

“This important milestone keeps AR1 squarely on track for flight readiness in 2019,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake. “Our proven design process and demonstrated manufacturing approaches are key contributors to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s unmatched record of mission success. When replacing the Russian-made engines on current launch vehicles, mission success has to be the country’s number one priority.”

Aerojet Rocketdyne designed the preburner with Mondaloy™, which is a burn resistant nickel-based super alloy.

“Due to the hot, oxygen-rich environment inside a staged combustion engine like the AR1, burn-resistant materials are necessary to ensure safe operation of the engine under all conditions,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Aerojet’s advanced space and launch programs and strategy.

Kleeck said that the Mondaloy 200™ alloy is perfectly combined with 3-D printing because it eliminates the need for “exotic metal coatings currently used in the Russian-made RD-180 engine”. The engine will use an “oxidizer-rich” combustion cycle which includes liquid oxygen and kerosene that will generate 500,000 pounds-force (2,200 kilonewtons) of thrust at sea level.

To develop the AR1 engine, the company used the same methods used throughout its 60 years of experience in designing previous engines such as the RS-68, J-2X, RL10, and RS-25. The engine design team recently completed a critical design review to qualify for certification in 2019.

Now that the preburner test has been completed, the organization said that it has cleared a major technological hurdle to fulfill a congressional mandate to end U.S. dependence on Russian engine technology for military launches. The AR1 engine can be used on multiple launch vehicles including the Atlas V and Space Launch System.



Heather Smith's fascination for space exploration – started at the tender age of twelve while she was on a sixth-grade field trip in Kenner, Louisiana, walking through a mock-up of the International Space Station and seeing the “space potty” (her terminology has progressed considerably since that time) – she realized at this point that her future lay in the stars. Smith has come to realize that very few people have noticed how much spaceflight technology has improved their lives. She has since dedicated herself to correcting this problem. Inspired by such classic literature as Anne Frank’s Diary, she has honed her writing skills and has signed on as The Spaceflight Group’s coordinator for the organization’s social media efforts.

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