The first AR1 rocket engine
Aerojet Rocketdyne has completed construction of the first engine in its next generation of the AR1 series of engines, although a customer is both missing and plans to test the fire for about two years.
The AR1 rocket engine is located at the company's facility in NASA's Stennis Space Center in Mississippi – and its completion is an extra piece that Lockheed Martin would get if the proposed $ 4.6 billion acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne will be completed in the second half of this year.
While Aerojet Rocketdyne finishes building the engine, it will be a few years before possible tests begin.
"Aerojet Rocketdyne could be able to hot-fire the AR1 engine in late 2022," the company said in a statement to CNBC on Tuesday.
The company does not yet have a customer for the AR1 as it lost to Blue Origin's BE-4 engine in 2018 due to a lucrative contract to power the United Launch Alliance's upcoming Vulcan rocket. However, Aerojet Rocketdyne emphasized that "the AR1 engine is ideally suited to meet market demands for a mid-size launch vehicle and responsive launch capability." Missile builder Firefly Aerospace is developing one such vehicle, but although the two signed a collaboration agreement in 2019, the companies don't yet have a customer agreement. Firefly has highlighted the AR1 as "incredibly well suited for Power Beta". This is the missile that Firefly is set to develop after the initial launch of its Alpha missile in the coming months next year.
The company confirmed to CNBC that this is the only AR1 engine to date.
Wall Street analysts say Lockheed Martin's near-term advantage in purchasing Aerojet Rocketdyne would result from its strong and growing defense business. But Aerojet Rocketdyne would also promote vertical integration of Lockheed Martin's space business, which the defense giant recently highlighted as threatened by Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.
Lockheed Martin will add several key space products through Aerojet Rocketdyne. The company builds the RS-25 engine for NASA's Space Launch System, the RL10C-X engine for the upper stage of ULA's Vulcan rocket, and small engines for controlling spacecraft, those of Boeing's Starliner crew capsules as well NASA and ULA missions are used.
Blue Origin is testing one of the BE-4 rocket engines the company is developing for the launch of its New Glenn rocket.
Blue origin | gif from @thesheetztweetz