HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) — A company with a storied past of helping NASA lift off now powers the Space Launch System the world will witness Monday. Aerojet Rocketdyne‘s engines and motors are also designed right here in Huntsville.
“So many people in the community are working on different parts of the rocket,” Aerojet Rocketdyne avionics engineer Alison Varner told News 19. “So it feels like one big group project your whole life…and Monday it’s coming to fruition so that’s really cool.”
The engines’ propulsion makes the SLS the most powerful NASA rocket ever: 8.8 million pounds of thrust at the launch.
“Four of the engines have been flight tested and actually been on flights supporting the space shuttles,” Varner said. So they used to be called space shuttle main engines. And for the first four Artemis flights, all of those engines – 16 RS-25 engines – are coming from the space shuttle program.”
Varner, a Morgan County native, tests the RS-25’s software.
“We’re gonna continue to update software, test it out in our lab, improve the engine design, improve all designs that we can and continue to support those missions,” she said.
The Varner name is also familiar to Huntsville’s lunar legacy.
“My grandpa worked on the Saturn V!” Varner said. “He was a systems engineer I believe, and came down to Huntsville and worked with Dr. [Werner] von Braun. So that’s very cool to think that we’re working on similar things. When I’m going to watch the launch on Monday, [I’ll be] thinking about him. Seeing that launch go to the moon and how he worked on that, and [that] we’re just continuing that legacy is really cool.”
While the engines were “only” designed in Huntsville, Ryan Wurst helps build and perfect another crucial SLS part at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s north Huntsville facility.
“Our team worked primarily on the jettison motor on the launch abort stack on the Orion capsule,” Wurst said. “So at the very pointy end of the rocket, that is there in the event of an emergency. It’ll pull the capsule away from the rest of the rocket to keep the crew safe.”
Both bright young minds say they’re ready for their work to finally shoot for the moon, literally.
“Everyone regardless of whatever you’re studying can help support this mission if that’s what you want to do. So it’s really cool to see,” Varner said.
“There’s a lot of moving parts that have to work together successfully to make it happen,” Wurst added. “But it’s super exciting to push the boundaries of our knowledge of space and of the cosmos.”