Orbital Sciences has three options in Antares engine search but Russian two may soon be closed

by | Apr 23, 2014 | Add category, commercial launch services, SpaceX | 0 comments

The space launch vehicle and spacecraft manufacturer Orbital Sciences Corp has a reported shortlist of three engines as it searches for a replacement engine for its Antares launch vehicle.  The rocket currently uses two first stage engines of the NK-33 design which were originally used in large numbers on the N-1 rocket booster – the Soviet heavy lift equivalent of the Saturn V.  These NK-33 rocket engines, which have been in long term storage for over 40 years, are currently refurbished to AJ-26 standard by the Aerojet Rocketdyne company.  However the supplies of these engines are running out and a new engine needs to be found.  As reported by Space News, One of the proposals is that these NK-33 engines could be newly manufactured in Russia on a rebuilt production line.

While the Liquid Oxygen (LOx)/kerosene NK-33/AJ-26 is highly rated for its efficient pre-burner rocket cycle, it only has about half the thrust compared to its competitors.  One of these is the LOx/kerosene burning Russian-designed RDAmross RD-180 rocket engine which is currently used under licence by the Lockheed Martin-built Atlas V rocket series.  While it has two nozzles it only has a single combustion chamber and only one would be needed in place of two NK-33s.  Orbital Sciences Corp and the Boeing/Lockheed Martin joint company ULA (United Launch Alliance) have now settled their dispute over the right to use this engine.

The third alternative for Antares is to use an unspecified US rocket design.  This latter option maybe favoured for political reasons in the light of the Ukrainian annexation dispute with Russia. Aerojet-Rocketdyne is known to be working on a 1 million pound thrust engine broadly equivalent to the RD-180 called the AJ-1-E6.  This uses a similar pre-burner cycle to the Russian engine and would fit the bill though it may be more expensive in the near term to develop.

Less likely would be that Orbital Sciences would be supplied by its competitor Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).  SpaceX is also working on a large pre-burner cycle engine dubbed Raptor to replace its nine less efficient gas-generator cycle Merlin first stage engines.  This new engine would not be LOx/kerosene powered  but would use LOx/methane as propellants instead.

Update on 30/04/2014: Russian-sourced engine options may soon be unavailable however as there are political moves in response to the Ukrainian annexation crisis to curtail their use.  Aviation Week reports that in the short term the US Congress may ban US military payloads flying on launch vehicles using any Russian-built engines.  The US House of Representatives later moved to finance a new build engine to replace the RD-180 which may involve one of the options listed above.

About Seradata

Seradata produce the renowned SpaceTrak Launch & Satellite Database. Trusted by 100 of the world’s leading Space organisations, SpaceTrak is a fully queryable database used for market analysis, failure/risk assessment, spectrum analysis and space situational awareness (SSA).

For more information go to www.seradata.com/spacetrak

Related Articles

Antares hangover: Orbital Sciences looks for Cygnus rides on other rockets as well as engine replacements

While dwindling engine supplies meant that Orbital Sciences Corp already had a plan to replace its elderly AJ-26 (refurbished Russian Read more

IAC 2014 Toronto: Commercial manned spaceflight has new air-launched baby…Dream Chaser Junior

Commercial manned spaceflight was especially emphasised at IAC 2014, and it even got its own plenary session. Alexander Derechin, of Read more

Cygnus Orb-2 cargo craft unberths/undocks from ISS and re-enters

The Cygnus Orb-2 spacecraft, a disposable unmanned freighter operated by Orbital Sciences Corporation for NASA, was unberthed/undocked from the International Read more

Orbital Sciences Corp wins construction order for HYLAS 4 while Arianespace takes launch order

While the news had previously been leaked, the US spacecraft and launch vehicle manufacturer, Orbital Sciences Corporation, formally announced that it Read more

Orbital Sciences says it has sold two Geostar-3 bus comsats

Orbital Sciences Corporation has announced that it has sold two of its new upgraded satellite design for communications satellites GEOSTAR-3.  While the Read more

Antares 120 rocket blasts off carrying Cygnus cargo craft to International Space Station which it docked with (Updated)

At 1652 GMT on 13 July 2014, a Orbital Science Corporation Antares 120 rocket lifted off from its Wallops Island Read more

Merger of (near) equals in a marriage happy ending: Orbital Sciences Corp + ATK = Orbital ATK

In a news release, the launch vehicles and satellites maker, Orbital Sciences Corp, has announced that it has entered a Read more

Ukraine crisis: Russian retaliation to economic sanctions could end International Space Station though NASA remains sanguine

Russia’s military and political advances in the Crimean region of Ukraine, following similar fanning of separatism in parts of Georgia Read more