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Two engine rivals merge into Aerojet Rocketdyne
Posted: June 18, 2013

Two commercial suppliers of rocket power in the U.S. have completed their merger and "launched" into business under the new banner Aerojet Rocketydyne, promising the government it will reduce costs.

Credit: Pat Corkery/United Launch Alliance
GenCorp Inc. announced last July it has signed a definitive agreement to purchase Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne from its parent United Technologies Corp. for $550 million.

GenCorp, headquartered in Sacramento, Calif., also owns Aerojet. Buying PWR meant the firm would combine the two primary producers of rocket engines in the U.S., with customers including United Launch Alliance and Orbital Sciences.

As part of the acquisition, the new company has pledged to save the government $100 million per year.

"We know that bringing these two companies together we can do that. We are willing to stand up and be counted on that," said Warren Boley, president and CEO of Aerojet Rocketdyne.

PWR produced the venerable RL10 cryogenic upper stage engines for the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 booster fleets, oversaw the U.S. element of the RD-180 first stage program for Atlas, built the RS-68 and RS-68A powerplants for Delta 4, made the RS-27A engines on the Delta 2 and produced the space shuttle main engines for decades. It has been developing the J-2X for NASA's future heavy-lift vehicle.

Retirement of the space shuttle was a hard hit to Rocketdyne, which merged into Pratt & Whitney. The inventory of leftover shuttle main engines are earmarked for use on the Space Launch System mega-rocket in the future.

Aerojet makes the monolithic solid rocket motors for Atlas 5, refurbishes the Soviet-era N-1 moonrocket engines into the AJ-26 for Orbital Sciences' new Antares vehicle, and also produced the Delta 2 second stage engine and a host of maneuvering thrusters across the industry.

The new company will continue to provide the primary products for United Launch Alliance's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles and develop the RL10-C, a common upper stage engine.

Boley said it would be a few more months before Aerojet Rocketdyne receives Russian government approval for assume its new stake in RD AMROSS, which is the U.S. arrangement for selling the RD-180 engine to the Atlas 5 rocket.

"The addition of Rocketdyne almost doubles the size of our company and provides additional growth opportunities as we build upon the complementary capabilities of each legacy company, including their talented people and innovative technologies," said GenCorp President and CEO Scott Seymour.

"Combined, we bring decades of history that launched the first space age and put mission-critical technology into the hands of our warfighters," Seymour continued. "Our vision for the future is a shared one. We have the best workforce in the industry and we are committed to 100% safety and mission success as we continue to deliver performance, drive innovation and create opportunity. We will continue to be a leader in the next space age."

Aerojet Rocketdyne is under contract to deliver 20 of the AJ-26 engines to Orbital Sciences to power the Antares rocket, which successfully made its first test flight in April. It will be used, at least initially, to perform commercial resupply missions to the International Space Station.

Boley said his firm has 43 engines in its possession for refurbishment and modifications to make them flyable on the Antares rocket, with another dozen in Russia. Each launch uses two engines on the main stage.

Built in the 1960s and 1970s, the engines have been in warehouse storage for decades, requiring them to be overhauled before use.

The Russian producer intends to restart manufacturing the engine from scratch, which would extend the availability starting in late 2016. Aerojet has received a contract spelling out the pricing and schedule for the new-production engines, pending Orbital's approval, Boley said.

But Orbital has been looking at the RD-180 as a longer-term option for the Antares as it hopes to gain a footing in the medium-class launch market. That has caused wrangling over the Atlas 5's exclusivity of using the engine and the Federal Trade Commission has launched an investigation.

"Should, for whatever reason, (Orbital) want to change engines, not the conversation you are usually having after your first successful launch, but should they chose to change engines there will be options," Boley said.

Once Aerojet Rocketdyne gets its 50 percent stake in RD AMROSS, would the company want to sell the RD-180 to Orbital?

"That needs to be done in the context of what ULA thinks they own, what intellectual property they have. There are other (Russian) products that RD AMROSS has the U.S. marketing rights to that in my opinion makes the Antares vehicle very attractive," Boley said.

"If we stay focused on the customer and respect everyone's intellectual property we're going to be okay."