NASA’s Artemis program gets wings with new engine contract

Aerojet Rocketdyne will design the main engine for NASA’s Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions 6-14.

NASA has awarded a lucrative contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne Inc for the development of engines for the Orion spacecraft.  The contract, which has a maximum value of $600 million, is for development of the Orion Main Engine (OME), which is a single, large engine that sits at the bottom of the Orion spacecraft.  The contract is valid from September 21, 2021, through April 23, 2032.  Interestingly, early flights of Orion will actually use legacy engines from the space shuttle program.

Founded in 1942, Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA have a long history together.  The Sacramento-based company developed engines used on both the Saturn I and Saturn IB launch vehicles, along with the space shuttle’s hefty RS-25 engines.  More recently, Aerojet Rocketdyne has components on both the Curiosity and Perseverance rovers.  Given this long history, the OME contract is far from surprising, especially since the aforementioned RS-25 engines will also be used on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, which will also be launching Orion.

Space Shuttle Discovery seen during its STS-120 mission in 2007. The smaller two engines on the shuttle rear are the same kind that will be used on the first six Artemis missions. (Credit: NASA)

Managed by both ESA and NASA, Artemis 1 is officially slated for launch in December 2021, although this may not be realistic.  Artemis missions 1-5 will use legacy Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) engines from the space shuttle before switching over to the new OME engines for Artemis missions 7-14.  This means that the new Aerojet Rocketdyne engines could power the Artemis program until at least 2032!

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