United Technologies Corp CEO Louis Chenevert confirmed March 15 that UTC is selling its Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne subsidiary.
The sale reflects UTC’s assessment that future rocket engine procurements are slowing down, in response to defense spending and NASA refocusing.
But perhaps more so because UTC needs to raise $16.5 billion to complete its purchase of Goodrich Corp and the $1.5 billion buyout of Rolls-Royce from the International Aero Engines joint venture. Also up for sale is Clipper Windpower and parts of Hamilton Sundstrand.
Rocketdyne has been through several owners and has always been praised as producing superior rocket engines. It was formed by North American Aviation right after World War II to adapt the German V-2 engine. It was spun off as a separate division in 1955. In 1967, North American and Rocketdyne merged with Rockwell, which later became part of Rockwell International.
In the 1950s and late 1960s, Rockwell designed and built rocket engines for the Thor and Atlas missiles. The Thor Delta engine continues as a space launcher, as does the Atlas. The Atlas rocket family has been an important orbital launcher for many decades, from the Project Mercury manned spacecraft to the Atlas-Agena and Atlas-Centaur. The Atlas V rocket engine is still in manufacture and use.
Rocketdyne became the major supplier for NASA, and built all the major engines used by the Saturn Apollo moon program. In 1965, Rocketdyne had 65,000 employees.
There followed a rapid downturn in military and civilian contracts, and downsizing. But in July, 1971 Rocketdyne beat out Pratt & Whitney and Aerojet General, and was awarded the NASA contract for the Space Shuttle main engine.
The engine that was developed is an engineering marvel. During the course of the Space Shuttle program, a total of 46 RS-25 engines were used (with one extra RS-25D being built but never used). During the 135 missions, for a total of 405 individual ‘engine missions,’ Rocketdyne reports a 99.95% reliability rate, with the only in-flight SSME failure occurring during Space Shuttle Challenger’s STS-51-F mission.
As Rockwell International was tied almost entirely to the space shuttle, the firm decided to sell off Rocketdyne, and in 1996 was sold to Boeing. Subsequently, on Aug. 2, 2005, Boeing sold Rocketdyne to Pratt & Whitney, subsidiary of UTC.
The current Rocketdyne sale has been speculated about for several months. There are reports that ATK and Gencorp [the owner of Aerojet General] have made inspection visits. Aerojet general is the only other major U.S. liquid fueled rocket manufacturer. However the current ‘washroom rumor’ in Canoga Park, Calif., is that Boeing is slated to re-buy Rocketdyne.
Boeing and Rocketdyne have been working closely together on the Boeing NASA Commercial Crew Development program.
On March 12, Rocketdyne announced it successfully completed a full-mission duration hot-fire test on a Launch Abort Engine for Boeing’s Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft. The CST-100 spacecraft, designed to transport people to the International Space Station and other low-Earth orbit destinations, is in development under NASA’s CCDev program. The engine achieved full thrust of 40,000 pounds, and full duration. Under its contract with Boeing, Rocketdyne is leveraging proven Attitude Control Propulsion System thrusters from heritage programs, a low-cost Bantam engine design, and its storable propellant engineering capabilities.