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Aerojet is a major rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer based primarily in Sacramento, Californiamarker with divisions in Redmond, WAmarker; Orange, VAmarker; Gainesville, VAmarker; and Camden, ARmarker. They are the only US propulsion company that provides both solid rocket motors and liquid rocket engines. Their products include a wide range of motors, from main engines used on a number of NASAmarker vehicles and ballistic missiles, down to stationkeeping thrusters for spacecraft. The propulsion devices include rocket motors as large as the EELV Atlas V strap-on rocket boosters. Aerojet provides almost all of the Army's tactical missile rocket motors. They develop and manufacture a wide range of air breathing ramjet and scramjet engines. They also do research in the US in the area of electric ion and Hall effect thrusters. Aerojet is one of only three American companies dedicated almost entirely to rocket engines, the others being their rivals at Rocketdyne (liquid rocket engines) and ATK (solid rocket motors).


Aerojet developed from a 1936 meeting hosted by Theodore von Kármán at his house. In addition to von Kármán, who was at the time director of Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technologymarker, a number of other Caltech professors and students were in attendance, like the eminent rocket scientist and astrophysicist, Fritz Zwicky, as well as self-taught explosives expert Jack Parsons, all of whom were interested in the topic of spaceflight. The group continued to meet time to time, but was essentially limited to discussions as opposed to experimentation.

Things changed in 1938 when the US Army offered two research projects, one for windshield de-icing on aircraft, and another for rocket engines to launch aircraft (today known as JATO). Dr. Jerome Clarke Hunsaker at MITmarker had the first pick, and feeling that the rocket research was a "Buck Rogers" project, left rockets to the Caltech team.

Their first design was tested on August 16, 1941, consisting of a small cylindrical solid fuel motor attached to the bottom of a plane. The takeoff distance was shortened by half, and the USAAF placed an order for experimental production versions. On March 19, 1942 the company was officially formed in Azusa, CAmarker, known as Aerojet Engineering. The founders of the Aerojet Engineering Corporation were Frank Malina, von Kármán, Parsons, Forman, Martin Summerfield, and Andrew Haley. In 1943 the Army Air Forces finally placed a full order, demanding that 2000 be delivered before year-end. The company also invested in pure rocket research, developing both a liquid fueled design, and a new solid fuel design based on a rubber binding agent in partnership with General Tire. In the immediate post-war era Aerojet downsized dramatically, but their JATO units continued to sell for commercial aircraft operating in hot-and-high conditions.

By 1950 their research into the rubber-binder had led to much larger engines, and then to the development of the Aerobee sounding rocket. Aerobee was the first US designed rocket to reach space (albeit not orbit), and completed over 1000 flights before it was retired in 1985. The newly-formed US Air Force used Aerojet as the primary supplier on a number of their ICBM projects, including the Titan and Minuteman missiles. They also delivered propulsion systems for the US Navy's submarine-launched Polaris missile. A new plant was set up in Sacramento that took over most rocket construction, while the original Azusa offices returned primarily to research. One of Azusa's major projects was the development of the infra-red detectors for the Defense Support Program satellites, used to detect ICBM launches from space. The new research arm was formed as Aerojet Electronics, and after purchasing a number of ordnance companies, Aerojet Ordnance was created as well. A new umbrella organization oversaw the three major divisions, Aerojet General.

President Kennedy's challenge to place man on the Moon by the end of the 1960s led to increased civilian work at Aerojet. In the past they had repeatedly lost contracts for large engines for the Saturn and Nova boosters, being designed in the late 1950s, typically to their rival Rocketdyne, but in the end were selected to develop and build the main engine for the Apollo Command/Service Module. In 1962 they were also selected to design a new upper-stage engine to replace the cluster of five J-2 used on the Saturn second stage in the post-Apollo era, but work on their resulting M-1 design was later ended in 1965 when it became clear the public's support for a massive space program was waning.

Similar work continued in the 1970s, delivering the 2nd stage motor for the MX missile, the thruster systems for the Space Shuttle, and the first US-designed cluster bombs. A contract for 30 mm ammunition for the A-10 Thunderbolt II was so extensive that new branch plants were set up in Downeymarker and Chinomarker in 1978. Aerojet also purchased a number of other firms over this period, and their plant in Jonesborough, TNmarker developed the use of depleted uranium ordnance. To this day they are the primary supplier of these weapons. Their electronics and ordnance divisions also collaborated on the SADARM 8" anti-armor artillery round, but this was not put into production.

The 1980s saw a brief revival of the aerospace business during the heyday of Reagan's SDI program, but the company shrank continually during the late 1980s and into the 1990s.

During the 21st century, Aerojet grew steadily from 2002 to 2008. In 2008, Aerojet employed more than 3500. Aerojet's second-stage for the Delta II rocket engine (first used in 1960) completed a record 268 successful mission launches on February 6, 2009. NASA's Constellation program set a long-term goal of returning to the moon and continue with missions to Mars. NASA chose Aerojet to provide the primary design and development of Orion spacecraft propulsion systems.

Aerojet has major facilities in Jonesborough, TN; Redmond, WA; Orange, VA; Gainesville, VA; Camden, AR; and Socorro, NM.

Florida facility and canal

In the 1960s, Aerojet solid fuel technology was under consideration for use in Saturn first stages. A monolithic, 21 foot diameter motor was designed, which was too big to be transported by rail. A facility was constructed in the Florida Evergladesmarker where the motors could be built and tested, and then barged to Cape Canaveral. A canal was dug (C-111), the southernmost freshwater canal in Southeast Florida, and a drawbridge was installed for the U.S. Highway 1 crossing at mile marker 116. The canal was dubbed the "Aerojet Canal". SW 232nd Avenue was renamed "Aerojet Road". When the Aerojet product was not selected for the Saturn project, and segmented boosters were chosen for the Space Shuttle, the land and facilities were returned to the state, and are now managed by the South Florida Water Management District and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission as a nature preserve. The Aerojet signage still remains for both the road and canal.

EPA Superfund Sites

Aerojet's manufacture, testing and disposal methods led to toxic contamination of both the land and groundwater in the Rancho Cordovamarker area, leading to the designation of a Superfund site. Solvents such as trichloroethylene (TCE) and chloroform and rocket fuel by-products such as N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) and perchlorate were discovered in drinking water wells near Aerojet in 1979. Since then, two State agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency have been working with Aerojet to ensure that the company cleans up pollution caused by its operations at the site. Under state and federal enforcement orders, Aerojet installed several systems on the borders of its property to pump out and treat contaminated groundwater. Aerojet has also conducted a number of removal actions for onsite soils, liquids, and sludges. In 2003, groundwater sampling data revealed a plume of contamination extending northwest under Carmichaelmarker.

Discovery of TCE contamination at the Sacramento facility also led Aerojet to look into possible contamination of the groundwater at Aerojet's Azusa facility, where much of the testing of JATO's and Rocket engines were conducted before moving those operations to Sacramento. In 1980, it was announced that there was TCE contamination in the groundwater at Aerojet's facility in Azusa in a hearing chaired by State Senator Esteben Torres. In 1985, it was declared a Superfund Site by the EPA as San Gabriel Superfund Site II and the cleanup done under the Baldwin Park Operable Unit. In 1997, it was also discovered that there was also NDMA and Ammonium Perchlorate contamination in this plume and that Aerojet was once again labeled a Potentially Responsible Party (PRP) in this action. Aerojet sold this facility in 2001 to Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Most U.S. citizens remain unaware of the fact that Aerojet's disposal of toxic material occurred 20 years prior to the establishment of a provisional perchlorate RfD limit of 1E-4 mg/kg/day in 1992 (to have been achieved by all companies by 1995). This limit was increased to 9E-4 mg/kg/day in 1998, and prior to the results from NAS studies, the limit was reduced to 4E-5 mg/kg/day in 2002. The NAS studies disputed the 4E-5 limit, and recommended its current limit of 7E-4 mg/kg/day.

Aerojet employees in 2010 are not the same employees who worked on military contracts in the 1950s & 1960s. The company acquired the old Rocket Research Corporation (Redmond, WA), and promoted J. Scott Neish to President of Aerojet in 2005, and President of GenCorp in 2008. Aerojet-GenCorp (NYSE:GY) actively works to protect the environment from any further harm, and has developed "clean" rocket technology (Xenon gas thrusters) for satellite orbit maintenance and NASA deep space missions. The new thrusters are more efficient than older liquid fuel thrusters, and are now available for future space missions.

Aerojet in the 1990s

As Aerojet downsized, many of their industrial plants were idled, and the company looked for ways to capitalize them. Their massive investment in chemical mixing equipment used to build their solid fuel rockets was later leased to third parties, notably pharmaceutical companies, under the name Aerojet Fine Chemicals. The division was later sold. Aerojet Real Estate was "more direct", leasing buildings, or selling off undeveloped land. It owned approximately 12,600 acres (51 km²) of land, located 15 miles (24 km) east of downtown Sacramento.

The remaining research and development sections of Aerojet were organized into the Aerospace and Defense division (ADS). They continued to develop and produce liquid, solid, and air-breathing engines for strategic and tactical missiles, precision strike missiles, and interceptors required for missile defense. Product applications for defense systems included strategic and tactical missile motors; maneuvering propulsion systems; attitude control systems; and warhead assemblies used in precision weapon systems and missile defense, as well as airframe structures required on the F-22 Raptor aircraft and fire suppression systems for military and commercial vehicles. Their space-related products included liquid engines for expendable and reusable launch vehicles, upper stage engines, satellite propulsion, large solid boosters, and integrated propulsion subsystems.

Aerojet successfully qualified a 4.5 kW Hall effect thruster electric propulsion system based on technology licensed from the Busek Corporation. Aerojet is under contract to Lockheed Martin to provide the first two shipsets of the new thruster system for the next generation Advanced Extremely High Frequency (AEHF) system, an Air Force program. Research into the next generation of advanced or "green" monopropellant engines met with mixed success in the 1990s. HAN engines developed under contract to the US Air Force and Missile Defense Agency provided proof of concept.

Aerojet is currently owned by the company formerly known as the General Tire & Rubber Company, which changed its name to GenCorp in 1984. GenCorp is headquartered in Rancho Cordova, Californiamarker.

See also

  • Scout - Aerojet manufactured the "Algol" first stage of this USAF/NASA orbital launch vehicle


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