scientist Wernher von Braun, it supplied the main engines for the Saturn V
rockets that propelled the Apollo moon missions.
"We don't have the big engines that this company does," Aerojet's Bregard said.
The Sacramento company's relatively smaller engines are found in weapons like the Air Force Minuteman missiles, as well as thrusters that guide space satellites. Almost all its sales are to the Pentagon and NASA, either directly or through bigger contractors such as Raytheon.
During its heyday, in the 1960s, Aerojet literally worked around the clock to build rocket engines for the space program and the Cold War. The roar of engines being tested could be heard for miles around. Astronauts Frank Borman and Neil Armstrong dropped in to give workers pep talks.
During the past four decades, though, the company has struggled to reinvent itself. Aerojet and GenCorp (successor to the old General Tire and Rubber) tried to diversify, putting money into electronics, chemicals and auto parts with mixed results.
GenCorp put Aerojet up for sale in 1994 but couldn't find any takers. A big problem was extensive groundwater contamination on the Rancho Cordova property.
In 2000, GenCorp tried again. It agreed to sell Aerojet's engine business to United Technologies -- the same firm on the selling end of the current deal -- and ship most of its work to San Jose and Florida.
That sale also fell apart, and GenCorp said it was in the aerospace business to stay. It spent $200 million on a handful of small aerospace acquisitions.
Still, growth in aerospace came slowly, and in 2008 an unhappy New York hedge fund that owned 14 percent of GenCorp's stock, Steel Partners II, took control of the company and ousted its CEO.
The move sparked speculation that Steel would sell GenCorp, or at the very least accelerate development of 6,000 acres of idle land owned by GenCorp on Highway 50 in eastern Sacramento County -- something the company has been pushing for years.
For now, the housing market crash has delayed hopes of real estate riches. Kathy Redd, the company's chief financial officer, said GenCorp still expects to develop the property some day, but not at the expense of its first love. "Our core business is really our aerospace and defense business," she said.
Two weeks ago, GenCorp announced a partnership with a French company to build a European aerospace subsidiary.
At the same time it announced the Rocketdyne deal, GenCorp named a new president of Aerojet, Warren M. Boley Jr., to replace Seymour. Seymour remains GenCorp's CEO.
Boley has decades of experience in the industry, including 27 years at United Technologies. He most recently was a consultant to a tool manufacturer in Illinois.
At a glance
What happened Monday: Aerojet's owner, GenCorp Inc., buys Rocketdyne from United Technologies for $550 million.
The significance: Deal nearly doubles GenCorp's business, cements company's commitment to aerospace following years of uncertainty.
The risk: Government aerospace and defense budgets are dwindling. Rocketdyne is being sold at $150 million loss.
About GenCorp: Earned $2.9 million in 2011 on $918 million in sales. Makes rocket engines for Pentagon, NASA. Employs 3,300, about half in Rancho Cordova.
About Rocketdyne: Based in Canoga Park, powered Apollo missions and the space shuttle. Employs 2,200.
Most Popular Stories
- Bipartisan Budget Deal Gets Key Support in House
- Bitcoin Clones Lurch Onto Financial Scene
- Clinton to Keynote Annual Simmons Leadership Conference
- GM to Stop Making Autos in Australia
- Selena Gomez, Shakira Among Top Hispanic Searches
- PhD Project Grooms Business Profs
- How Bitcoin and Other Cryptocurrencies Work
- It's Primary Time in Texas
- How to Survive a Subzero Stranding
- Pacific Trade Pact Delay Hinders U.S. Pivot to Asia