Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is a United States company that designs and produces rocket engines that use liquid propellants. Officially named Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Inc., Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne is a wholly owned subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation, headquartered in Canoga Park, California. It has additional operations in West Palm Beach, Florida; Huntsville, Alabama; the Kennedy Space Center, Florida; and the Stennis Space Center, Mississippi.
The company was formed by North American Aviation (NAA). In 1967, NAA and Rocketdyne merged with the Rockwell Corporation to form North American Rockwell, later part of Rockwell International. Decades later, in December 1996, the aerospace entities of Rockwell International were bought by Boeing. In February 2005, Boeing reached an agreement to sell what was by then referred to as Rocketdyne Propulsion & Power to Pratt & Whitney. The transaction was completed on August 2, 2005.
Rocketdyne was formed by NAA in the immediate post-WW II era to study the German V-2 missile and adapt its engine to SAE measurements and US construction details. Rocketdyne also used the same general concept of separate burner/injectors from the V-2 engine design to build a much larger engine for the Navaho missile project. This work was considered unimportant in the 1940s and funded at a very low level, but the opening of the Korean War in 1950 changed priorities. Navaho ran into continual difficulties and was canceled in the late 1950s when Redstone missile design (essentially a much larger V-2) had caught up in development. However the Rocketdyne engine, known as the A-5 or NAA75-110 proved to be considerably more reliable than the one developed for Redstone, so the missile was redesigned with the A-5 even though the resulting missile had much shorter range. As the missile entered production NAA spun off Rocketdyne in 1955 as a separate division.
Rocketdyne's next major development was its first all-new design, the S-3D, which had been developed in parallel to the V-2 derived A series. The S-3 was used on the Jupiter missile design, essentially a development of the Redstone, and was later selected for the considerably more capable Thor missile. An even larger design, the LR89/LR105, was used on the Atlas missile. The Thor had a short military career, but it was used as a satellite launcher through the 1950s and 60s in a number of different versions. One, Thor Delta, became the baseline for the current Delta series of space launchers, although since the late 1960s the Delta has had almost nothing in common with the Thor. Although the original S-3 engine was used on some Delta versions, most use its updated RS-27 design, originally developed as a single engine to replace the three-engine cluster on the Atlas.
The Atlas also had a short military career as a deterrent weapon, but the Atlas rocket family descended from it became an important orbital launcher for many decades, both for the Project Mercury manned spacecraft, and in the much-employed Atlas-Agena and Atlas-Centaur rockets. The Atlas V is still in manufacture and use.
Rocketdyne also became the major supplier for NASA's development efforts, supplying all of the major engines for the Saturn rocket (and potentially, the huge Nova rocket) designs. Rocketdyne's H-1 engine was used by the Saturn I booster main stage, which consisted essentially of a cluster of eight Jupiters. The F-1 powered the Saturn V's, S-IC, first stage, while five J-2 rockets powered its S-II second stage, and one J-2 the S-IVB third stages. By 1965, Rocketdyne built the vast majority of US rocket engines, excepting those of the Titan rocket, and its payroll had grown to 65,000. This sort of growth appeared to be destined to continue in the 1970s when Rocketdyne won the contract for the Space Shuttle Main Engine. But the rapid downturn in other military and civilian contracts led to a similar downsizing of the company. North American, now largely a spacecraft manufacturer, and also tied almost entirely to the Space Shuttle, merged with the Rockwell Corporation in 1966 to form the North American Rockwell company (which several years was renamed Rockwell International), with Rocketdyne as a major division.
During continued downsizing in the 1980's and 90's, Rockwell International shed several parts of the former North American Rockwell corporation. First to go was its General Aviation division in 1980, followed by the Sabreliner business jet division in 1983. The rest of the former NAA, along with Rocketdyne, was sold to Boeing in 1996. Rocketdyne served as part of Boeing Integrated Defense Systems until its sale to Pratt & Whitney on August 2, 2005. As of 2007, the president of the company was Jim Maser, who succeeded Byron Wood at the helm.
In addition to its primary business of building rocket engines, Rocketdyne has developed power generation and control systems. These included early nuclear power generation experiments, radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTG), and solar power equipment, including the main power system for the International Space Station. In the sale to Pratt & Whitney, the Power Systems division of Rocketdyne was transferred to Hamilton Sundstrand, another subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation. Rocketdynes know-how in the design of molten salt receivers for Solar power towers like Solar Two is now used by SolarReserve.
For many years Rocketdyne engines and power systems were tested at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory (SSFL), located in Simi Valley, in Ventura County, California, northwest of Los Angeles and near the company headquarters in Canoga Park. Extensive use of rocket propellants and other toxic chemicals eventually resulted in significant soil contamination at the facility. There have also been accusations regarding improper disposal of nuclear waste.
On 26 July, 1959, the Sodium Reactor Experiment, a Rocketdyne-owned experimental sodium-cooled nuclear reactor at SSFL, suffered a partial core meltdown — the first meltdown in the history of nuclear power — which may have resulted in a significant release of radiation. Long-term effects and mitigation efforts have been the subject of ongoing controversy; see Santa Susana Field Laboratory#Conflict over cleanup for more details.
Some of the engines developed by Rocketdyne are: