NASA has awarded Aerojet Rocketdyne with a $1.7 billion contract to produce 18 RS-25 engines for the agency’s SLS launch vehicle.
The $1.7 billion follow-on contract to produce engines that will support Artemis missions aboard heavy-lift SLS rockets modifies an initial contract awarded in November 2015. With the modification, the total contract value now stands at almost $3.5 billion for a total of 24 RS-25 rocket engines.
“This contract allows NASA to work with Aerojet Rocketdyne to build the rocket engines needed for future missions,” said John Honeycutt, SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “The same reliable engines that launched more than 100 space shuttle missions have been modified to be even more powerful to launch the next astronauts who will set foot on the lunar surface during the Artemis missions.”
In addition to contracting Aerojet to produce the engines, the new contract also includes provisions for testing and support for SLS flights powered by the engines.
Although the current $3.5 billion contract puts the per-unit cost at almost 146 million each, enough to pay for two SpaceX Falcon 9 missions with change, NASA is working with Aerojet to reduce the cost by 30%. According to a NASA press release, the plan calls for the use of “advanced manufacturing techniques to modify some of the rocket components.”
The lineage of the RS-25 rocket engine can be traced back as far as the 1960s. Following several years of development, the engine was selected as the Space Shuttle main engine. A total of three engines were fitted to each orbiter. Following each mission, the engines were refurbished and reused.
Despite remaining much the same, the RS-25 engines Aerojet is producing for NASA’s SLS rocket do include key upgrades that will improve the engines’ performance. However, unlike the Space Shuttle, the SLS system will not have the ability to reuse its core stage, which will be dumped into the Atlantic following each launch.