Aerojet, a GenCorp company, announced April 21 that its dual AJ26 main engine system successfully powered the first stage of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s he two Aerojet AJ26 engines, which form the Antares rocket’s first-stage main engine system, burned for 233 seconds and provided 816,000 pounds of vacuum thrust as it powered Antares from the launch pad to a velocity of 9,800 miles per hour and a target orbit of 250 km x 300 km.
The launch was a test flight of the Antares launch system conducted under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services development agreement with Orbital. COTS helps American industry develop privately-operated space transportation systems.
“Today’s test is the culmination of some of the most challenging and rewarding work we’ve had the privilege to support,” said Aerojet Vice President, Space & Launch Systems, Julie Van Kleeck.
The AJ26 is a commercial derivative of the NK-33 engine that was first developed for the Russian N-1 rocket by the Joint Stock Company Kuznetsov. The oxidizer-rich, staged-combustion, oxygen kerosene engine achieves very high performance in a lightweight, compact package.
“The two AJ26 engines that launched today’s flight were originally slated to power the N-1 rocket on a lunar mission in the early 1970s,” said Aerojet Executive Director, Pete Cova. “Today’s mission marks the first time these engines are reaching space, which is a significant milestone for both the U.S. and Russian companies involved.”
To modernize the NK-33 for commercial applications, Aerojet enhancements include a gimbal block for thrust vectoring capability, new wiring harnesses and electrical circuitry, electromechanical valve actuators and instrumentation.