Encyclopedia Astronautica
AJ10-104


Aerojet Nitric acid/UDMH rocket engine. 35.1 kN. Isp=278s. Stainless steel version of the basic Able engine, uprated to increase thrust 34.7 kN to 37.0 kN and to increase the duration 2-1/2 times First flight 1960.

As is almost always the case in such programs, the Air Force requested increases in the propulsion system capabilities in an effort to meet their ever-expanding mission requirements. As a result, the stainless steel version of the basic Able engine was selected, and it was uprated to increase thrust 34.7 kN to 37.0 kN and to increase the duration 2-1/2 times (easily done with the stainless steel thrust chamber) - and this configuration was called Ablestar. The Ablestar also included modifications that allowed in-space restarting - a first in the industry. The time required for developing and qualifying the Ablestar propulsion system was eight months, most of which was needed for the design, development and qualification of the much larger propellant tanks and titanium helium spheres. These remarkably short development times was a result of the basic simplicity of the Able design - mainly the low chamber pressure, hypergolic propellants, and gas pressurized propellant tanks. This simplicity also resulted in a number of additional very desirable features:

  • The ability to achieve rapid, relatively low cost modifications, and high reliability for a variety of missions
  • The ability to shift back to the aluminum thrust chamber and injector which provided an extremely good thrust to weight ratio (180, based on 3500 kgf thrust and a weight of 19.5 kg)
  • Very light weight tankage based on heat treated 410 stainless steel
  • Easily adjustable run time (in the stainless steel version) based on simply varying the length of the cylindrical section of the tanks.
In addition, the basic philosophy of pressure fed, low chamber pressure and ablative (rather than regeneratively cooled) thrust chambers for upper stage engines produced outstanding reliability and scalability. In a vacuum engine, a low chamber pressure still provides a reasonable expansion ratio, and thus reasonable performance. Secondly, low chamber pressure allows use of a very simple, pressure fed propellant system with relatively light and inexpensive tanks. Thirdly, the low chamber pressure results in lower heat transfer rates, thus making ablative chambers more practical - and they are inherently less expensive, and much mere reliable. And finally ablative chambers greatly simplify restarts in a vacuum environment because there are essentially no problems with cooling jacket and manifold fill times or coking in the coolant system.

Engine: 90 kg (198 lb). Chamber Pressure: 7.00 bar. Area Ratio: 40. Propellant Formulation: RFNA/UDMH. Thrust to Weight Ratio: 39.7666666666667. Coefficient of Thrust vacuum: 5.14542744974419.

Unfuelled mass: 90 kg (198 lb).
Diameter: 1.40 m (4.50 ft).
Thrust: 35.10 kN (7,891 lbf).
Specific impulse: 278 s.
Burn time: 296 s.
Number: 31 .

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Associated Countries
See also
Associated Launch Vehicles
  • Delta American orbital launch vehicle. The Delta launch vehicle was America's longest-lived, most reliable, and lowest-cost space launch vehicle. Delta began as Thor, a crash December 1955 program to produce an intermediate range ballistic missile using existing components, which flew thirteen months after go-ahead. Fifteen months after that, a space launch version flew, using an existing upper stage. The addition of solid rocket boosters allowed the Thor core and Able/Delta upper stages to be stretched. Costs were kept down by using first and second-stage rocket engines surplus to the Apollo program in the 1970's. Continuous introduction of new 'existing' technology over the years resulted in an incredible evolution - the payload into a geosynchronous transfer orbit increasing from 68 kg in 1962 to 3810 kg by 2002. Delta survived innumerable attempts to kill the program and replace it with 'more rationale' alternatives. By 2008 nearly 1,000 boosters had flown over a fifty-year career, and cancellation was again announced. More...
  • Thor Able-Star American orbital launch vehicle. As Thor Able but with enlarged Ablestar second stage with 2 1/2 x greater burn time. More...

Associated Manufacturers and Agencies
  • Aerojet American manufacturer of rockets, spacecraft, and rocket engines. Aerojet, Sacramento, CA, USA. More...

Associated Propellants
  • Nitric acid/UDMH Drawing on the German World War II Wasserfall rocket, nitric acid (HNO3) became the early storable oxidiser of choice for missiles and upper stages of the 1950's. To overcome various problems with its use, it was necessary to combine the nitric acid with N2O4 and passivation compounds. These formulae were considered extremely secret at the time. By the late 1950's it was apparent that N2O4 by itself was a better oxidiser. Therefore nitric acid was almost entirely replaced by pure N2O4 in storable liquid fuel rocket engines developed after 1960. Unsymmetrical Dimethylhydrazine ((CH3)2NNH2) became the storable liquid fuel of choice by the mid-1950's. Development of UDMH in the Soviet Union began in 1949. It is used in virtually all storable liquid rocket engines except for some orbital manoeuvring engines in the United States, where MMH has been preferred due to a slightly higher density and performance. More...

Associated Stages
  • Able-Star Nitric acid/UDMH propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 4,497/599 kg. Thrust 36.02 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 280 seconds. The Air Force requested increases in the propulsion system capabilities of the original Able upper stage design in an effort to meet their ever-expanding mission requirements. As a result, the stainless steel version of the basic Able engine was selected, and it was uprated to increase thrust 34.7 kN to 37.0 kN and to increase the duration 2-1/2 times (easily done with the stainless steel thrust chamber) - and this configuration was called Ablestar. More...
  • Delta 104 Nitric acid/UDMH propellant rocket stage. Loaded/empty mass 4,472/590 kg. Thrust 35.10 kN. Vacuum specific impulse 278 seconds. More...

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