Aerojet Rocketdyne, a GenCorp company, recently completed its final J-2X test series at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
Over a period of three years, Aerojet Rocketdyne teams manufactured, assembled and tested four newly developed engine test articles that achieved an accumulated duration of nearly five hours firing time and demonstrated full power operation for twice its designed life service. Delivering 30 percent more thrust and five percent more performance than the J-2 Apollo-era engine, upon which it is based, the J-2X is the highest performing human-rated upper-stage engine to be developed in nearly 40 years.
“With J-2X, we were able to drive down the time needed to take a new rocket engine to 100 percent power level in testing, from 651 days to just 29, by integrating modern design, analysis and test practices with decades of experience gained on multiple engine development programs,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne President Warren M. Boley, Jr. “That kind of knowledge isn’t retained anywhere else in the industry and it demonstrates that we know how to design an engine that will work the first time.”
The J-2X is a liquid-oxygen/liquid-hydrogen fueled engine that is designed to start at altitude and re-start in space as part of a second or third stage of a large, multi-stage launch vehicle. With its full nozzle extension installed, the J-2X measures more than 15 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter at its base and weighs approximately 5,400 pounds. With a vacuum thrust of 294,000 pounds, the engine is designed to help loft heavy payloads – such as habitats, landers and in-space modules – beyond low-Earth orbit.
“We had to modernize the J-2 engine to increase its power level and performance, so we had a good challenge on our hands,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne’s J-2X Director and Program Manager, Walt Janowski. “No part of this engine went untouched. We looked closely at each part to make sure it met modern standards and human-rated requirements.”
The completed J-2X testing provides direct benefits to Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RS-25 test program, including understanding performance of the test stands and implementing new methods to record and interpret engine performance data. The RS-25 engines also feature a modernized engine controller, successfully demonstrated on J-2X, for controlling start and shutdown valve sequencing and health monitoring control functions.
The J-2X engine is one of several options being considered to power the upper stage of NASA’s future 130-metric-ton Space Launch System. The only vehicle with the mass, volume and speed required for human missions beyond low-Earth orbit, SLS will launch crew and cargo to deep space destinations.
Capable of accomplishing these missions in fewer launches than any current or planned vehicle, NASA’s SLS and Orion spacecraft programs are gearing up for major accomplishments this year. Orion’s first flight test on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy, scheduled for December 2014, will take a human-rated spacecraft farther into space than one has been in 40 years. The mission will travel 15 times farther than the International Space Station and perform two Earth orbits to validate key functions including high velocity re-entry and recovery. Test firings of the RS-25 engine and SLS booster will demonstrate the performance of the vehicle’s main propulsion systems, and the opening of the SLS Vertical Assembly Center will support welding of the vehicle’s fuel tank – all important steps in preparing for deep space human explorations missions.
A propulsion provider for all NASA human spaceflight programs and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles, Aerojet Rocketdyne has delivered reliable propulsion solutions for more than 70 years. No other company has the experience and proven track record required to build these critical national assets.
“Aerojet Rocketdyne is a propulsion innovator,” said Boley. “We are redefining what the standards are for engine performance and we’re ready to meet the propulsion needs of our nation.”