Spaceflight Insider

ULA’s Vulcan rocket upper stage to use RL10 engine

Aerojet Rocketdyne tests a full-scale, 3-D printed thrust chamber for the company's RL10 engine. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

Aerojet Rocketdyne tests a full-scale, 3-D printed thrust chamber for the company’s RL10 engine. Photo Credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne

United Launch Alliance (ULA) announced it has selected Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 engine to power the Centaur upper stage of the Vulcan rocket, which is currently in development. According to the agreement, Aerojet Rocketdyne is expected to produce engines for ULA for the next decade and develop the next-generation of the RL10 family.

“Having the RL10 selected to support Vulcan Centaur means ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne will continue working together to extend our track record of mission success well into the future,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake in a May 11, 2018, news release. “We look forward to working alongside the outstanding team at ULA to make the Vulcan Centaur rocket a reality in order to provide reliable and affordable access to space for our nation.”

The RL10 was first flown in 1962 and continues to be a workhorse engine for Aerojet Rocketdyne. The liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-consuming powerhouse has been upgraded since its introduction with the current version capable of producing up to 25,000 pounds (110 kilonewtons) of thrust.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is continuing to improve the engine by incorporating additive manufacturing techniques. In 2017, a new full scale 3-D printed thrust chamber assembly was successfully hot-fire tested. It was created using selective laser melting from a copper alloy.

“With nearly 500 engines flown in space over the last five decades, the RL10 has earned an unmatched reputation in the industry,” Drake said. “We will continue to build this proud legacy by supporting ULA’s new Vulcan Centaur rocket for many years to come.”

ULA echoed that its partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne has been beneficial.

“ULA and Aerojet Rocketdyne have a long and successful history together that began with the first flight of our Atlas and Delta rockets in the 1960s,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO, in a company statement. “We could not be more pleased to have selected the proven and reliable RL10 to power our Vulcan Centaur upper stage.”

Which company will produce Vulcan’s first stage engines is still under consideration by ULA. Currently, Aerojet Rocketdyne and Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin, with their AR1 and BE-4 engines respectively, are competing for that contract. The first flight of the new rocket is expected to occur no earlier than 2020.

United Launch Alliance Vulcan rocket image credit ULA posted on SpaceFlight Insider

An exploded view of ULA’s future Vulcan rocket. Image Credit: ULA



Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.

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