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Aerojet Rocketdyne Integral to Orion Crew Vehicle's Historic First Test Flight

Written by: developer

SACRAMENTO, Calif., (Dec. 5, 2014) – Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp (NYSE: GY) company, played a critical role in NASA’s Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) — the first step toward human exploration of destinations in deep space such as an asteroid and Mars. The Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket and represents the inaugural flight of the Orion crew vehicle. Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion was instrumental in all phases of the flight — from launch to re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.

“Aerojet Rocketdyne is honored to play such a critical role in the first step toward sending humans further into space than they have ever traveled in the history of space exploration,” said Julie Van Kleeck, vice president of Space Advanced Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “We look forward to continuing our legacy of supporting every NASA human spaceflight program since the Mercury era with our proven propulsion capabilities.”

“This successful first flight of Orion again demonstrates the flexibility and reliability of our diverse propulsion capabilities — from launching the Delta IV Heavy rocket off the pad, delivering the spacecraft to its destination, orienting the crew module properly throughout the mission, and then safely returning it to Earth,” said Steve Bouley, vice president of Space Launch Systems. “We are pleased to play such an important role in this stepping stone toward human space exploration to future destinations that are beyond anywhere mankind has visited before.”

The unmanned EFT-1 mission was designed to evaluate several of Orion’s critical systems such as avionics and attitude control, as well as to test the parachute and heat shield systems. Orion will ultimately carry astronauts deep into space, provide emergency abort capabilities at launch, if needed, sustain crew during travel and provide safe re-entry from the deep-space missions. In the future, Orion will sit atop the 321-foot tall Space Launch System (SLS), the heavy-lift launch vehicle being designed by NASA to deliver humans to deep space.

The launch of EFT-1 used a Delta IV Heavy rocket, powered by three Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-68 engines — each of which produces 663,000 pounds of thrust generating more than 17 million horsepower.

At the end of the boost phase, the Delta IV second stage, along with the Orion crew module, separated from the Delta IV Heavy first stage booster rocket as planned. At that point, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10B-2 upper-stage engine took over the main propulsion role, igniting to provide 24,700 pounds of thrust and inserting the spacecraft into orbit. Right after second stage ignition, an Aerojet Rocketdyne Jettison Motor separated the Launch Abort System from Orion — a necessary action for Orion to continue its journey skyward. In the future, in the event of an emergency during launch, the Launch Abort System will be used to safely propel the crew and capsule away from the launch vehicle, safely returning the astronauts to the Earth’s surface.

A second burn of the RL10B-2 upper-stage engine propelled the Orion vehicle to a peak altitude of 3,600 miles above the Earth, setting up the high speed re-entry. Twelve small monopropellant thrusters on the Delta cryogenic second stage provided roll, pitch, yaw and settling burns. ARDÉ, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne based in New Jersey, provided the pressure vessels on the first and second stages of the launch vehicle.

Shortly before Orion re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, the Delta IV upper-stage was jettisoned as planned and the crew module reached speeds of 20,000 mph, or Mach 26, to successfully demonstrate its ability to survive the dramatic and hostile re-entry environment. Twelve Aerojet Rocketdyne MR-104G 160 lbf. monopropellant thrusters, configured into four major pod design variants, then fired to perform the critical maneuvers needed for the Orion crew module to safely return to Earth.

Aerojet Rocketdyne is a world-recognized aerospace and defense leader providing propulsion and energetics to the space, missile defense and strategic systems, tactical systems and armaments areas, in support of domestic and international markets. GenCorp is a diversified company that provides innovative solutions that create value for its customers in the aerospace and defense, and real estate markets. Additional information about Aerojet Rocketdyne and GenCorp can be obtained by visiting the companies’ websites at and