... having been founded in 1942 as the Aerojet Engineering Corporation by world-renowned aerodynamicist Dr. Theodore von Kármán and five California Institute of Technology colleagues. These rocket pioneers leveraged their ingenuity and shared passion for rocketry to create a company that today has powered some of the nation’s most critical defense and exploration missions. Launching as a single-product company, Aerojet manufactured critical Jet Assisted Take Off (JATO) propulsion, which led to increased allied pilot safety by enabling heavily laden aircraft to take off from short runways and carrier decks.
Following the allied forces’ victory in WWII, Aerojet’s production efforts turned to the development of solid rocket propellant motors for the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) Minuteman, as well as solid rocket motors for the two-stage submarine-launched ballistic missile, Polaris. Aerojet also began work on the Titan program. The company ultimately spent the next 50 years producing liquid rocket engines for the entire Titan launcher family: Titans I through IV.
With the launch of the space race in the 1960s, Aerojet’s propulsion expertise powered the nation’s early exploration accomplishments. In 1966, three of every four rockets launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, were powered by Aerojet propulsion systems. Following the two-man missions of Gemini, Aerojet’s Service Propulsion System placed Apollo astronauts in orbit around the moon and brought them home again. As the country accomplished President Kennedy’s lunar goal, the company’s heritage in planetary exploration began in the 1970s with Aerojet thrusters propelling the Mars Viking Landers on their journey and descent to the red planet. Since that time, every U.S. Mars exploration mission has used Aerojet propulsion.
Throughout that same decade, the ongoing Vietnam conflict created enormous demand for products handled by Aerojet’s Ordnance Division. Aerojet was one of the few companies in the country with the expertise to handle the complete ordnance package from design and development through testing and mass production. Aerojet propulsion products expanded throughout the 1980s with the development of the advanced second stage solid rocket motor for the Peacekeeper and advanced Post Boost Control System gas generators for the Trident II Fleet Ballistic Missile, as well as the Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) for NASA’s newly defined space shuttle program.
In 1981, the inaugural space shuttle mission launched as Columbia roared off the launch pad from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Aerojet OMS and Reaction Control System propulsion provided mission-critical maneuvers throughout NASA’s 30-year program and its 135 missions—ending with Space Shuttle Discovery’s final launch and historic landing in July 2011.
In the early 1990s, Aerojet was once again called upon during the Persian Gulf War. The company worked around the clock to provide munitions to allied forces in Operation Desert Storm. Aerojet’s rocket motors propelled the Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) that became known as “steel rain” for its effectiveness. The war was also the first in which in-space technology played a critical role. Aerojet’s Defense Support Program satellites were used to detect hostile missile launches and the company’s space technology was used for war zone meteorological forecasts.
With the dawn of a new century in 2000, Aerojet advanced its role as the nation’s only provider of both liquid and solid propulsion products. In 2002, the company acquired the Redmond-based Space Propulsion and Fire Suppression business from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems as well as the Atlantic Research Corporation in 2003. These acquisitions contributed a wealth of defense, spacecraft and space lift capabilities, including core products in advanced solid rocket propulsion systems, gas generators, monopropellant hydrazine thrusters, bipropellant engines, electric propulsion and auxiliary rocket motors. The new decade also saw nearly two dozen Atlas V missions launching a variety of defense and exploration payloads. All Atlas V launches requiring extra boost performance have flown Aerojet-produced Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs). These motors have demonstrated a 100 percent success record in flight, with 41 having flown on 15 missions over the past 10 years in vehicle configurations ranging from one to five SRBs.
As a NASA Orion partner, the company provides multiple propulsion motors and thrusters for the next-generation crew vehicle. Aerojet also is involved in the emerging commercial space market as its AJ26 liquid-fuel engine provides the lightweight power that will boost Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Antares launch vehicle.