United Launch Alliance (ULA), Centennial, Colorado, USA, has awarded its largest RL10 engine contract ever to Aerojet Rocketdyne, Los Angeles, California, USA, to deliver 116 RL10C-X engines for its Vulcan Centaur rocket. The new engines will support ULA as it works to fulfil its commitments under a contract from Amazon, as part of the largest commercial launch contract in history to establish Amazon’s Kuiper satellite constellation.
Project Kuiper is a low Earth orbit (LEO) satellite system designed to provide fast broadband to unserved and underserved communities around the world. To date, the company has secured up to eighty-three launches from three commercial space companies. These include thirty-eight launches on ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, eighteen launches on Arianespace’s Ariane 6, and twelve launches on Blue Origin’s New Glenn, with options for fifteen additional launches. The agreements provide enough capacity to carry into space the majority of the 3,236 satellites that make up the Kuiper satellite constellation.
“The RL10 engine is the nation’s premier upper-stage engine and a true workhorse in the industry,” stated Eileen P Drake, CEO and president, Aerojet Rocketdyne. “With the RL10C-X, we’ve leveraged our industry-leading 3D printing technology to significantly reduce the cost of the engine while at the same time increasing its performance to provide our customer with enhanced mission capability.”
The RL10C-X uses an additively manufactured main injector and main combustion chamber, as well as a 239 cm monolithic lightweight composite (carbon-carbon) nozzle. The specific impulse, or Isp, of the RL10C-X is 461 seconds, which puts it near the very top of the RL10 engine family in terms of performance. Specific impulse measures the amount of thrust generated by a rocket engine per unit of propellant consumed per second.
“The RL10 is the highest performance upper-stage rocket engine flying today,” said Tory Bruno, ULA president and CEO. “We’re proud to be launching the Kuiper constellation with the next generation of this incredibly reliable and high-performance engine.”
The RL10C-X engine is designed, fabricated, assembled and tested at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s facility located in West Palm Beach, Florida. The RL10 engine line currently powers the upper stages of ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV launch vehicles, and will soon begin supporting NASA’s Space Launch System.