Launch of Modernized SBIRS Missile Warning Satellite Marks Key 3D Printing Milestone for Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 Engine
Mission launched by United Launch Alliance
May 18, 2021 - Today’s successful launch of a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket was supported by Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion systems from launch through in-space operations. The rocket launched the fifth Space Based Infrared System Geosynchronous Earth Orbit (SBIRS GEO-5) satellite, built by Lockheed Martin, for the U.S. Space Force. Additionally, the launch marked an important milestone for Aerojet Rocketdyne as it was the first operational use of an RL10 engine equipped with 3D-printed components.
This new model of the RL10, dubbed RL10C-1-1, includes a core main injector that was fabricated using an additive manufacturing (3D printing) technology known as selective laser melting (SLM). SLM is essentially a micro-welding technique that uses a high-powered laser beam to fuse powdered metal to form detailed components that can perform under the extreme pressures and operating conditions of rocket engines.
An Atlas V rocket launched the SBIRS GEO-5 satellite from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on May 18, 2021. The launch marked the first operational use of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10 engine equipped with 3D-printed components. Credit: United Launch Alliance
“This launch marks an important step in our effort to incorporate 3D printing into many of our proven propulsion systems,” Aerojet Rocketdyne Space Business Unit Senior Vice President Jim Maser. “We have invested tremendous amounts of time and energy to develop our industry-leading additive manufacturing technology. These investments have enabled us to provide more affordable RL10 engines that deliver the same performance and reliability our customers have come to expect.”
In addition to the RL10 that powered the Centaur upper stage of the Atlas V, Aerojet Rocketdyne supplied two AJ-60A strap-on solid rocket boosters to provide extra thrust during liftoff. Both stages of the Atlas V used helium pressurization tanks supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne subsidiary ARDÉ, while 12 of the company's MR-106 monopropellant thrusters provided roll, pitch and yaw control, as well as settling burns, for the Centaur's phase of the mission.
Aerojet Rocketdyne's propulsion products were not limited to the launch vehicle. The SBIRS GEO-5 satellite is equipped with Aerojet Rocketdyne monopropellant thrusters that will maintain its orbit and orientation. In addition to maintaining the satellite in its orbital position, these thrusters provide attitude control during orbit raising as well as the boost needed to decommission the satellite at the end of its service life.
Providing the U.S. military with early warning of missile launches throughout the world, SBIRS consists of a network of satellites in GEO, sensors in highly elliptical orbit and a sophisticated ground control system. Other SBIRS missions include missile defense, battlespace awareness and technical intelligence gathering. SBIRS GEO-5 is the first military space satellite built on Lockheed Martin’s LM 2100 Combat Bus,™ an enhanced space vehicle that provides even greater resiliency and cyber-hardening against growing threats, as well as improved spacecraft power, propulsion and electronics.