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NASA Rockets Made at Enlarged Aerojet Plant

More than 100 people turned out on Aug. 18 for a ribbon cutting at the expanded rocket engine factory of Aerojet Rocketdyne in Chatsworth.

The subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. in El Segundo is ramping up production on the RS-25 engine for the Space Launch System, NASA’s newest deep space rocket.

The $59 million expansion added 30,000 square feet of manufacturing space to the facility. The cost also included new equipment.

Standing before the crowd that included representatives from NASA, Rep. Brad Sherman, and employees, Chief Executive Eileen Drake said what the company really loves about the Space Launch System is that it has the most powerful engines in the world and it just happens to be made by Aerojet Rocketdyne.“It is an unbelievable engine. It is very reliable,” Drake said. “It will give NASA the reliable access to deep space for astronauts and cargo.”The RS-25 is a modified version of the Space Shuttle main engine that has been updated with new controllers and adapted for the new launch system. The Space Launch System, or SLS, uses four of the Rocketdyne engines that together produce 2 million pounds of thrust.Jim Maser, senior vice president of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s space business unit, said that with four engines needed for the rocket, workers at the plant could handle on 12 to 14 sets of hardware in the system simultaneously.“This facility expansion allows us to have the room for all that hardware but process it as efficiently as possible with the most modern manufacturing methods,” Maser said in an interview with the Business Journal.

Those methods include the use of additive manufacturing, or 3D printing.

Johnny Heflin, the NASA SLS liquid engine office manager, said in an interview that up to 35 parts of the RS-25 have been made by 3D printing.

“It is very important to what we are doing now, and we are using it across the engine in a lot of different areas,” he added.

Maser called the use of additive manufacturing a “game changer” in the development of the rocket engine. The factory makes “really complex stuff” but at low volume and the 3D printing equipment has enabled Rocketdyne make complex designs in fewer numbers with cost efficiency.

In addition to four new laser melting machines for additive manufacturing, other new equipment for the expansion is nondestructive inspection equipment and a horizontal vacuum furnace for brazing exotic engine materials.“We are bringing in some of the largest machines in the world to machine some of the largest hardware in the world,” Maser said.

Sherman said that the expansion is just the beginning to the economic impact of Aerojet Rocketdyne’s investment.

“We should see billions of dollars in contracts over the next decade, decade and a half,” Sherman told the Business Journal. “Every one of those engines is over $50 million. And we need four of them every time we go up. That is money that is all spent here in the San Fernando Valley.” For the local economy, “it means hundreds of additional employees, keeping the employees they have now, keeping them working, buying the supplies, eating at the restaurants and supporting the city,” Sherman added.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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