U.S. Air Force decided to give strong financial support for United Launch Alliance under public-private partnership with Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc.
Perspective of new rocket engine fully made in America is getting close. Yesterday, on 29 February 2016 it was announced that U.S. Air Force chosen Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc. and United Launch Alliance to establish new public-private partnership for developing new rocket engine. New engine name is AR1 and it will be conventional LOX/RP-1/Kerosene fueled engine based on oxidizer-rich staged combustion cycle. AR1 will be utilized in Atlas V and Vulcan and it is possible that it will propulsion for different future commercial rockets. According to Eileen Drake, CEO and President of Aerojet Rocketdyne:
“This engine will be available for use on the Atlas V, Vulcan and other launch vehicles currently in development.”
These words were confirmed by CEO of ULA Mr. Tory Bruno:
“ULA is fully committed to transitioning as quickly and affordably as possible to a domestic engine... Our supplier, Aerojet Rocketdyne, is moving us toward one of two viable options with the excellent progress on the AR1 engine development.”
Enthusiasm of Eileen Drake and Tory Bruno should not be surprising. Partnership with U.S. Air Force will be very profitable - two thirds from $804 million of total cost of AR1 will be covered from USAF budget. Military is counting on fast progress in AR1 project - engine should be ready until end of 2019, to be ready for Vulcan rocket first flight which should take place around 2020. Both companies also would like to offer as soon as possible new engine to avoid strengthening position of Energomash on American market (Orbital ATK already decided to use Russian RD-181 for their latest version of Antares rocket). It seems that after different problems with RD-180 ban in Congress, ULA returns to battle with SpaceX for government contracts.
On picture above You can see basic tool set for assembling rocket engine in Aerojet Rocketdyne facility. It seems that it is not black magic...