June, 2019 - NASA has laid the groundwork to return Americans to the Moon by 2024 and Aerojet Rocketdyne will be a critical contributor on multiple facets of the historic endeavor. Aerojet Rocketdyne was recently awarded a study by NASA to further investigate designs for a Lunar Transfer Vehicle under NASA’s new Artemis lunar exploration program, and also provides key systems for NASA’s SLS, Orion and Gateway programs.
The Transfer Vehicle will act as a ferry to transfer the Descent and Ascent Elements from the Gateway to Low Lunar Orbit, enabling the Lander to perform surface operations and on-orbit scientific research. The study will identify and reduce potential schedule risks for the Transfer Element, one piece of a Human Landing System based on NASA studies that is composed of Transfer, Descent, Ascent and Refueling elements.
With the Artemis program, NASA is putting in place a flexible sustainable architecture that is evolvable to support the return to the Moon and to eventually send humans onto Mars.
NASA aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028, and the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion Spacecraft are key to forming the architecture to support that presence. SLS is the nation’s next-generation heavy-lift rocket that will carry humans farther and faster into deep space than ever before. Aerojet Rocketdyne provides the four powerful RS-25 main engines used to help propel SLS with over 2 million pounds of thrust, as well as the RL10 main engine that will propel the SLS second stage and Orion into deep space.
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s role on Orion includes the 6,000 lbf main engine on the spacecraft’s service module, eight auxiliary engines used to maintain Orion’s in-space trajectory and position, the jettison motor that separates the Launch Abort System from the spacecraft as the crewmembers continue their journey, an oxygen and nitrogen (nitrox) tank for the life support system, 12 Reaction Control System thrusters that control the spacecraft’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, and five composite overwrapped pressure vessels that store high-pressure helium to inflate Orion’s flotation system upon water landing.
The next critical element of the Artemis effort is the Gateway: NASA’s maneuverable platform that will operate in close proximity to the Moon to support excursions to and from – as well as operations on – the lunar surface. The Gateway will also serve as a hub for deep space destinations and is able to maneuver in cislunar space by relying on Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP). Aerojet Rocketdyne has been building and testing higher power SEP systems under contract to NASA and currently is working on the 13-kilowatt Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) that will be used on the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element.