SACRAMENTO, Calif., (July 10, 2015) – Aerojet Rocketdyne (NYSE: AJRD) is playing a critical role in the historic flyby of Pluto and its five known moons with NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft, which has traveled nearly three billion miles in just under 10 years to reach the dwarf planet. New Horizons is the first spacecraft to ever make a close study of Pluto and is already returning images of the system that are of higher quality than those taken by any space telescope. Aerojet Rocketdyne provided 43 propulsion devices and six pressurant tanks aboard the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V launch vehicle and propulsion system for the spacecraft.
“This successful flyby once again demonstrates the reliability of our diverse propulsion capabilities, from the launch of New Horizons to propelling the spacecraft throughout its three-billion-mile mission and flying it past Pluto in between its mysterious moons,” said Aerojet Rocketdyne Chief Executive Officer and President Eileen Drake. “We are honored to play such an important role in helping scientists understand worlds at the edge of our solar system and look forward to continuing our legacy of supporting NASA in all aspects of space exploration, including delivering humans to Mars and beyond.”
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s role in the mission was significant: New Horizons was launched aboard ULA’s powerful Atlas V rocket on Jan. 19, 2006 that helped place New Horizons on its path toward Pluto.
Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion aboard the ULA Atlas V included five solid boosters that provided an average of 250,000 lbf of thrust each; eight separation motors; one Centaur RL10A upper-stage main engine that offered 22,300 lbf thrust; 12 MR-106 5.0 lbf thrusters that were used for roll, pitch, yaw and settling burns; and an atypical third stage used a single MR 107 nutation control thruster. ARDÉ, a subsidiary of Aerojet Rocketdyne based in New Jersey, provided the pressure vessels on the first and second stages on the launch vehicle. The New Horizons spacecraft includes a propulsion system built by Aerojet Rocketdyne that uses four MR-111C 1.0 lbf thrusters and 12 MR-103H 0.2 lbf thrusters to provide spin control, course correction, and fine-tune maneuver capability. The New Horizons propulsion system was built under contract to the Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory.
The New Horizons mission is the first reconnaissance of the dwarf planet and, according to NASA, seeks to understand where Pluto and its moons “fit in” with other planets in the solar system. During its three-billion-mile journey, New Horizons swung past Jupiter for a gravity boost that increased the spacecraft’s speed and enabled arrival at Pluto years before it would have arrived without the gravity assist. Since the Jupiter assist, the propulsion system was awakened only occasionally for brief annual checkouts and finally in December 2014 in preparation for the Pluto flyby.
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