Ukrainian crisis: US Government to examine building RD-180 rocket engines in USA rather than in Russia

by | Mar 18, 2014 | commercial launch services, History, Russia, Technology | 0 comments

As our Ukranian crisis analysis predicted, the US Government is now concerned that a Russian-built rocket engine, the RD-180, is being used to power United Launch Alliance (ULA)-operated Atlas V launch vehicle, one of two types the US Department of Defence currently relies  on to launch its satellites.  It is now looking for alternatives including building RD-180 engines within USA.

While US rocket technology is known to be superior in LOx (liquid oxygen)/Liquid Hydrogen cryogenic rocket engines, the Russians are known to have more efficient rocket cycles for first stage LOx/Kerosene burning engines.  The RD-180 uses an oxygen-rich preburner in a high pressure staged-combustion cycle. This was the reason that the Russian made RD-180 was selected to power the first stage of the Atlas V.  The engines are officially supplied (actually imported) by RD AMROSS which was originally a joint US Russian firm which originally consisted of the US rocket firm Pratt and Whitney/Rocketdyne (now part of Aerojet Rocketdyne) and the Russian rocket firm Energomash.

According to Space News, US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has openly called for a review of the decision to use Russian-built engines. In a subsequent report by Defence Daily, the Air Force Under Secretary Eric Fanning has announced that the US Air Force is now performing an analysis of how much it would cost to produce the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine in USA.  RD AMROSS technically has a license to manufacture the RD-180 engine in the United States if ordered to by ULA or the US Department of Defence (DoD).

It is not just Russian hardware and services that the US DoD wants to become independent from.  According to reports, the US DoD has recently announced that it is to end its  controversial lease of capacity on Apstar 7, a communications satellite that is owned by APT Satellite Holdings which is majority owned by the Government of China via the state-owned China Aerospace Science & Technology Corp.


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