Aerojet is a major rocket and missile propulsion manufacturer based primarily in Sacramento, California with divisions in Redmond, WA; Orange, VA; Gainesville, VA; and Camden, AR. 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 NASA 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 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 Technology, 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. Zwicky did not like Parsons and called him a "dangerous man." This pronouncement was prophetic, like so many other of Zwicky's theories, as Parsons accidentally blew himself up in his own home. 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). Fritz Zwicky was research director at Aerojet and holds the patent for JATO among his 50 other patents. Dr. Jerome Hunsaker at MIT 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, CA, known as Aerojet Engineering. The founders of the Aerojet Engineering Corporation were Frank Malina, von Kármán, Parsons, Forman, Martin Summerfield, and Andrew Haley. [cite web | url = | title = Malina, Frank Joseph | publisher = American National Biography] 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-2s 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 Downey and Chino in 1978. Aerojet also purchased a number of other firms over this period, and their plant in Jonesborough, TN 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.

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

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 Everglades where the motors could be built and tested, and then barged to Cape Canaveral. A canal was dug (C-111), the southmost freshwater canal in Southeast Florida, and 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 signs still remain for both the road and canal.And the rocket engine is still there you can go down the road ride a bike about 6 miles jump two fences and go to the left and actually see the left over remains of a test still in the ground

EPA Superfund site

Aerojet's manufacture, testing and disposal methods led to toxic contamination of both the land and groundwater in the Rancho Cordova area, leading to the designation of a Superfund site. [cite web | title= EPA Proposes a Plan to Address Groundwater Contamination in the Western Area of the Aerojet Site | publisher=California Department of Toxic Substances Control | month=November | year=2000 | url=] 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 Carmichael. [cite web | title= Edge of Groundwater Contamination Plume Appears in Carmichael | publisher=United States Environmental Protection Agency | month=May | year=2004 | url= ]

Aerojet today

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 owns 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 are currently organized into the Aerospace and Defense division (ADS). They continue 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 include 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 include liquid engines for expendable and reusable launch vehicles, upper stage engines, satellite propulsion, large solid boosters, and integrated propulsion subsystems.

Most recently, Aerojet successfully qualified a 4.5 kW Hall effect thruster electric propulsion system based on technology licensed from the Busek Corporation. [ [ Aerojet Qualifies High Power Electric Propulsion System ] ] ["Development of the BPT family of U.S.-designed Hall current thrusters for commercial LEO and GEO applications"D. King, D. Tilley, R. Aadland, K. Nottingham, R. Smith, C. Roberts (PRIMEX Aerospace Co., Redmond, WA), V. Hruby, B. Pote, and J. Monheiser (Busek Co., Inc., Natick, MA) AIAA-1998-3338 AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference and Exhibit, 34th, Cleveland, OH, July 13-15, 1998 ] 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. [] [ [ Aerojet Produces New Generation of Non-toxic, Fuel-Efficient Electric Propulsion Systems | SpaceRef - Your Space Reference ] ]

Research into the next generation of advanced or "green" monopropellant engines has been met with mixed success. HAN engines developed under contract to the US Air Force and Missile Defense Agency have provided proof of concept [ [ Gencorp News Releases ] ] , but the engines have yet to be flight qualified despite more than a decade of research. [Meinhardt, D., et al., “Development and Testing of New HAN-Based Monopropellants in SmallRocket Thrusters,” AIAA 98–4006, 34th AIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference,Cleveland, OH, July 1998] [Meinhardt, D., et al., “Performance and Life Testing of Small HAN Thrusters,” AIAA 99–2881, 35thAIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, Los Angeles, CA, June 1999.] [Jankovsky, R., “HAN-Based Monopropellant Assessment for Spacecraft,” AIAA 96–2863, 32ndAIAA/ASME/SAE/ASEE Joint Propulsion Conference, Lake Buena Vista, FL, July 1996.]

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, California.


See also

* Scout (rocket) - Aerojet manufactured the "Algol" first stage of this USAF/NASA orbital launch vehicle

External links

* [ Aerojet corporation]
* [ GenCorp web site]
* [ Aerojet Redmond Website]

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