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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

ULA Selects Aerojet Rocketdyne's RL10 for Vulcan Upper Stage, but Still no Word on Main Stage Engine

United Launch Alliance has selected Aerojet Rocketdye's RL10 rocket motor to power the Centaur upper stage on the developmental Vulcan launch vehicle. ULA made the selection after a competitive procurement process.

This partnership is a long-term agreement for Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide upper stage propulsion for the next decade. As part of this partnership, Aerojet Rocketdyne will provide RL10s and develop the RL10C-X, the next generation of the RL10 family. The RL10C-X will increase the use of additive manufacturing and introduce other advanced technologies to improve the quality, reliability, affordability and performance.

The advantage of 3D printing lies in its ability to quickly produce customized items. This factor makes it ideal for the space industry, where many items are produced on a limited basis. Aerojet Rocketdyne has been a leader in developing 3D printing technologies. In particular, the company has been working to add 3D printed materials to its RS-25 engine that will be used on the Space Launch System (SLS). Aerojet will now apply the same techniques to the RL10.

While selecting an upper stage motor is important, the real milestone that the industry is waiting for is selection of a core stage engine. ULA is deciding between Aerojet's AR1 and Blue Origin's BE-4. The BE-4 is the favored solution, but ULA continues to take its time in making a final decision. Without a core engine selected, major progress on Vulcan development will continue to be slower than planned.