NASA has ordered another 18 rocket engines for its new mega Space Launch System for future missions to the Moon of Artemis.
The new $1.79 billion order requires California aerospace company Aerojet Rocketdyne to provide 18 RS-25 engines for future SLS missions. The agreement is based on an existing agreement between NASA and Aerojet for six SLS engines. According to representatives of NASA, this new order increases the value of the final contract to about $ 3.5 billion until 2029.
“This contract allows NASA to work with Aerojet Rocketdyne to develop the rocket engines needed for future missions,” said NASA SLA program manager John Honeycutt at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.
Each SLS missile will use four RS-25 rocket engines to launch its 65-meter first stage. The missile will also use two monotonous rocket boosters and an upper stage to launch the Orion crew capsule. The Artemis program will use SLS and Orion to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024.
NASA currently has 16 engines (rescued from the now retired Space Shuttle Agency program) that will be used in the first four SLS launches for Artemis missions 1 through 4. These engines will assist Artemis in its first moon landing with the crew (Artemis 3) and subsequent flights.
The NASA mission Artemis 1 is expected to begin in 2021. The engines for this mission are mounted on the SLS base stage and await serious testing at the NASA Space Center at Stennis in Mississippi. This work has been suspended since March because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The new agreement with Aerojet Rocketdyne will add another 24 SLS engines to the Artemis program, enough for six more flights.
“We have already started production of the first six new RS-25 engines,” said SLS Engine Manager Johnny Heflin in the same statement. “Aerojet Rocketdyne has restarted production lines, built up a supplier base and is producing engines using advanced technology that reduces both cost and time per engine.
The four RS-25 engines of the SLS rocket provide a total of 900 tons of thrust during launch to put the Orion capsule into orbit. NASA said the engines remaining after the space shuttle program have been re-equipped with new computer controllers and upgraded to meet the higher performance requirements of the SLS launch.