The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the USA (NASA) has signed a $1.2 billion contract with Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne Inc of Canoga Park, California, for design, development, testing and evaluation of the J-2X engine that will power the upper stages of its new Ares I and Ares V launch vehicles, popularly known as rockets.
The J-2X is an updated version of the powerful J-2 engine that propelled the Apollo-era Saturn IB and Saturn V rockets, and the J-2S, developed and tested in the early 1970s. Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne designed, developed, produced, refurbished and improved both the J-2 and the J-2S. The J-2X engine will incorporate significantly higher parameters to meet higher performance and reliability requirements for new the Ares vehicles.
The Ares I is a two-stage rocket that will blast the new Orion crew exploration vehicle - which will be able to accommodate as many as six astronauts - into low Earth orbit. The first stage will consist of a single reusable solid propellant rocket booster similar to the one on the present space shuttle, with an additional fifth segment. The second stage will consist of a J-2X cryogenic main engine operating on liquid-oxygen-and-liquid-hydrogen fuel, and a new upper stage fuel tank.
Ares V, a heavy lift launch vehicle, will use five RS-68 liquid oxygen-and-liquid-hydrogen engines mounted below a larger version of the space shuttle's external tank and two five-segment solid propellant rocket boosters for the first stage. The upper stage will use the same J-2X engine as the Ares I. The Ares V launch vehicle will be used to launch science and exploration payloads, as well as the key components needed to go to the moon and later, to Mars.
NASA has awarded the cost-plus contract to Pratt and Whitney Rocketdyne on a sole-source basis, because no other existing capability meets its requirements and can be extended for future exploration missions to the moon and Mars. The contract - which extends to 31 December 2012, includes ground and test flight engines. Engines to be used in actual missions will be purchased through a separate contract.