Lockheed Martin acquires rocket engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne for $4.4Bn as Space heats up

Lockheed Martin (LM), the US’s largest defence contractor will acquire Aerojet Rocketdyne (AR), a rocket engine and missile manufacturer, for $4.4 billion including debt and net cash, giving the company a larger stake in space and hypersonic technology. The move comes amid the context of increasing competition in the Space and Defence industries.

In a news release, the company said the proposed acquisition adds substantial expertise in propulsion to Lockheed Martin’s portfolio and that Aerojet Rocketdyne’s technologies were already ‘key components’ of Lockheed’s supply chain. It already uses Aerojet Rocketdyne’s propulsion systems in its aeronautics, missiles and fire control offerings.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s 2019 revenues were approximately $2 billion. The company, headquartered in El Segundo, California, has nearly 5,000 employees and was formed in 2013 when GenCorp’s Aerojet and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne were merged. The company produces solid rocket motors as well as tactical and strategic missiles for the Defense Department.

AR makes the RL10 rocket engine that powers the upper stage of United Launch Alliance’s Delta 4 and Atlas 5 launch vehicles, and also produces the RS-25 engines for NASA’s Space Launch System.

The company’s move comes as it attempts to increase its propulsion capabilities to compete with new entrants such as SpaceX and Blue Origin for space contracts with the U.S. government. Meanwhile, rival Raytheon Co. is preparing to combine with United Technologies Corp to create an aerospace-and-defense giant.

Lockheed CEO James Taiclet said in a statement: “Acquiring Aerojet Rocketdyne will preserve and strengthen an essential component of the domestic defense industrial base and reduce costs for our customers and the American taxpayer.”

Aerojet’s CEO Eileen Drake said: “As part of Lockheed Martin, we will bring our advanced technologies together with their substantial expertise and resources to accelerate our shared purpose: enabling the defense of our nation and space exploration.”

The acquisition is expected to close in the second half of 2021 but will be subject to the usual requirement for approvals by regulators and Aerojet Rocketdyne’s stockholders.

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Magdrive secures Seed funding for new propulsion system which could take us to the stars

A startup with a new type of spacecraft propulsion system could make the interplanetary travel seen in Star Trek a reality. Magdrive has just closed a £1.4M seed round led by Founders Fund, an early investor in SpaceX, backed by Luminous Ventures, 7percent Ventures, and Entrepreneur First.

Magdrive is developing a next generation of spacecraft propulsion for small satellites. The startup says its engine’s thrust and efficiency are a “generational leap” ahead of any other electrical thrusters, opening up the space industry to completely new types of missions that were not possible before, without resorting to much larger, expensive and heavier chemical thrusters. It says its engine would make fast and affordable interplanetary space travel possible, as well as operations in Very Low Earth orbit. The engine would also make orbital manufacturing far more possible than previously.

Existing electrical solutions are very efficient but have very low thrust. Chemical thrusters have high thrust but lack efficiency and are hazardous and expensive to handle. Magdrive says its engine can deliver both high thrust and high efficiency in one system.

Magdrive prototype render

Magdrive prototype render

If it works, the Magdrive engine could make spacecraft go faster for longer. This could open up the industry to new space missions, such as a satellite (or X-wing fighter?) that can make multiple, fast maneuvers, without worrying about conserving fuel. In order to do this right now, satellites require a chemical thruster, which requires a significant payload in fuel for launch. A 200kg satellite would require 50kg of hydrazine fuel, which would cost £1,350,000 in launch mass alone.

Co-founder (and Star Trek fan) Dr Thomas Clayson did a PhD in plasma physics, working on advanced electromagnetic fields. He realized this could be a cornerstone for developing a plasma thruster that could achieve the accelerations required for interplanetary space travel. After meeting Mark Stokes, a mechanical engineer at Imperial College London with similar dreams of space travel, they decided to build a small scale thruster for satellites.

But Magdrive is not alone. Other companies are developing so-called ‘Hall Effect Thrusters’, which is a technology that has existed since the 1960’s. Much of the development is towards miniaturization and mass reduction, but thrust and efficiency remain the same. These companies include Busek, Exotrail, Apollo Fusion, Enpusion, Nanoavionics. Meanwhile, large international companies with huge technology portfolios are working on improving chemical propulsion and making it non-toxic to handle, such as Aerojet Rocketdyne and Moog ISP.

They plan to scale up our technology to power larger manned spacecraft (once in orbit) to long-distance destinations such as the Moon and Mars. Our system would present a much more affordable than a chemical or nuclear solution, due to the huge reduction in fuel costs, and because it is reusable.

Andrew J Scott, Founding Partner, 7percent Ventures: “At 7percent we seek founding teams with ‘moonshot’ ambitions. With Magdrive this is not just a metaphor: their revolutionary plasma thruster will soon be powering satellites, but in the future could take us to deep space. While the UK’s expertise in constructing satellites is world-renowned, there has been far less focus on propulsion. In fact, Great Britain is the only country to have successfully developed and then, in the 1970’s abandoned, an indigenous satellite launch capability, which undoubtedly curbed the UK’s space sector. So we’re excited to be backing Magdrive, one of a new generation of British space startups, which has the vision and ambition to become a world-beating company in this burgeoning sector.”

The satellite industry is worth $5 Billion in 2020, predicted to grow to USD$30Billion by 2030, due to the rise in mega-constellations. Some 5,000 satellites are due to be launched in the next two years and 75% of all the companies launching these satellites have already flown something in space.

Magdrive is at the European Space Agency Business Incubation Centre in Harwell, Oxford.

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The first SpaceX Dragon capsule is taking its final flight

Last night, SpaceX launched its first generation Dragon capsule on its twentieth — and final — resupply run to the International Space Station.

The launch marks the Dragon’s last mission as the capsule makes way for SpaceX’s updated and improved Dragon 2 capsule, which will begin making resupply runs to the space station in October.

Alongside cargo to resupply the ISS, the Dragon will be bringing along payloads for experimental research aboard the space station. Including an Adidas experiment to see how it can manufacture midsoles in space; a project from the faucet maker, Delta, to see how water droplets form in zero gravity; and Emulate is sending up an organ-on-a-chip to examine how microgravity affects intestinal immune cells and how heart tissue can be cultured in space.

It’s been twelve years since SpaceX first won a $1.6 billion contract to resupply the space station, and over that time, the space industry has changed dramatically.

The company’s technical innovations around manufacturing and reusing rocket components revolutionized the space industry and created an environment where entrepreneurs believed in the possibility of competing with industry giants like Aerojet Rocketdyne, Boeing, and Lockheed Martin.

Since SpaceX first emerged to challenge those longtime government contractors, which had a lock on government space missions, a wave of commercial activity has emerged around the International Space Station, supporting the creation of new industries.

Earlier this week, Axiom Space announced that it would be using SpaceX to ferry the first entirely private crew of passengers to the International Space Station for a ten-day trip (albeit at a cost of $55 million). Axiom’s vision of building a private orbiting space station off of the existing International Space Station is a bold step forward for the commercialization of space — and one which would be less likely if not for SpaceX’s work and the success of the first Dragon.

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