Updated 9:12 AM EST, Tue, Jan 05, 2021

Make CT Your Homepage

US will Stop Using Russia’s RD-180 Rocket Engine for Atlas V Launch Vehicles


(Photo : TASS) Russia's RD-180 rocket engines.

The United States will stop buying Russia's RD-180 rocket engine that powers the Atlas V launch vehicle from United Launch Alliance (ULA), a situation that's becoming more scandalous as diplomatic ties with Russia plunge from worse to worst.

Each Atlas V rocket uses the Russian-built RD-180 engine that burns kerosene and liquid oxygen to power its first stage. Atlas V is a heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of carrying over 18,000 kilograms into low Earth orbit (LEO) and is widely used by the U.S. Air Force to launch military satellites.

Like Us on Facebook

The United States Congress has set Dec. 31, 2022 as the end date for use of the RD-180 engine. 

The sharp deterioration in U.S.-Russia ties after Russia's invasion and annexation of the Crimea in March 2014 compelled ULA to looks elsewhere for a replacement for the RD-180. Studies recommended the Atlas V be replaced by a new launch vehicle named Vulcan powered by American-made boosters.

Vulcan's first stage booster will be the Aerojet Rocketdyne AR1 rocket engine still being developed.

The heavy-lift Vulcan has been in the works since 2014 by ULA and is being funded by a public-private partnership with the U.S. government. ULA expects the first launch of the new rocket to occur no earlier than 2019.

Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR1 will be able to power both the Vulcan and the Atlas V. AR1 develops 550,000 pounds of thrust and uses the same propellant as the RD-180.

"We're on the path we laid out two years ago on schedule. We'll have a certified production engine coming off a production line, which we have outside of Los Angeles right now, in 2019," said John Schumacher, Aerojet Rocketdyne's vice president of Washington operations.

"Depending on the pace of integration with ULA and the pace they're moving on with Vulcan or Atlas, it's ready for integration --the work can start ahead of that -- but it's a 2019, 2020 proposition."

Aerojet Rocketdyne has built full scale flight type components for Vulcan and conducted several hundred component tests in advance of a critical design review next month.

Apart from ULA, the Air Force plans to retain the services of SpaceX as one of its two primary launch providers.

SpaceX uses the Merlin 1D, a homegrown rocket engine, for its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. The company, however, is requesting government funding to help pay for the development of the Raptor, its next-generation methane-fueled rocket engine that could power Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and the planned Interplanetary Transport System launch system. 

Real Time Analytics