Press Release

Boeing Rocketdyne Chooses Design for Next-Generation Reusable Rocket Engine

By SpaceRef Editor
January 28, 2002
Filed under , ,

The rocket engine
configuration selected by the design team at the Rocketdyne Propulsion
& Power unit of The Boeing Company (NYSE: BA) for Boeing’s propulsion
system entry in NASA’s Space Launch Initiative (SLI) will provide
greater reliability while increasing safety for future space flight

Engineers at Canoga Park, Calif.-based Rocketdyne are developing the
RS-83 engine for NASA’s SLI program for future reusable space
transportation. In May 2001, NASA awarded Boeing Rocketdyne $65
million to develop concepts and technologies for the main and upper
stage propulsion systems for the next-generation launch vehicle.

“NASA wants this new launch system to be at least 10 times safer and
crew survivability 100 times greater than today’s space launch
systems, all at one tenth the cost,” noted Rocketdyne SLI Program
Manager Jon Vilja. “Propulsion is a driver in achieving these
parameters, and we’ve selected a configuration for the engine that
promises greater safety, reliability and producibility.”

The new RS-83 engine system will be staged-combustion, liquid
hydrogen/oxygen, providing improved controllability and increased
reliability that even surpasses the mission success of the only
current reusable engine for human spaceflight, Boeing Rocketdyne’s
Space Shuttle Main Engine (SSME). It will be rated for a 100-mission
life cycle, twice the planned mission life for the SSME.

To support the SLI initiative, Rocketdyne drew on the expertise of
engineers fresh from two engine development efforts, the RS-68 for the
Boeing Delta IV expendable launch system, and the Aerospike engine for
NASA’s X-33 advanced technology demonstrator. The RS-68 – recently
certified by the Air Force for first flight in 2002 – was the first
large liquid-fueled engine developed in the United States since
Rocketdyne developed the SSME more than two decades ago.

“These Rocketdyne propulsion engineers bring to the table a combined
experience base which is unsurpassed,” Vilja explained. “Their
corporate memory on best practices in propulsion development is
recent, and the skill they’ve acquired in working with leading-edge
design tools has enabled us to move forward quickly and effectively
with our design efforts. Working side by side with our NASA customer,
we identified 5,500 potential engine combinations, and this astounding
number only represents the configurations that made it into our formal
selection process.”

“The final configuration of the RS-83 is simpler to build and
maintain, and has higher reliability,” said Jon Volkmann, product team
manager, Engine Integration.

Other RS-83 design features include turbopumps with easy access. The
RS-83 design also taps into state-of-the-art fabrication techniques,
including selectively net-shaped components made through the
technology of powder metallurgy.

The next milestone for the development effort is a System Design
Review in March. This could lead to the detailed design of a
full-scale prototype that would be worked for another year.

“Improved reliability and maintainability are inherent in the design
of the RS-83, further supplemented by advanced health monitoring
features. While the Space Shuttle Main Engine continues to serve ably
and capably as the current generation reusable launch engine, we see
the RS-83 as a worthy successor,” said Vilja.

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Dan Beck, 818.586.4572 (

Anne Eisele, 562.797.1022 (

SpaceRef staff editor.