RD-180 engine

ATK has offered a commercial solid rocket solution in response to a US Air Force’s (USAF) request for a replacement for the Russian-made RD-180 engines that power the first-stage of United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch vehicle.

The new solid rocket motor combines new technologies developed over the last six years, and led to higher performance and increased reliability and affordability.

The technology is capable of providing a smooth lift for payloads, which is critical when launching critical payloads, sensitive satellites and crews.

ATK Aerospace Group president Blake Larson said: "ATK’s solid rocket propulsion solution provides a cost-effective, reliable solution based on advanced technology.

"By combining our extensive experience with new technologies, we have provided commercial customers with low-cost solutions that progressed from design to flight qualification within months.

"Using a similar approach, ATK’s propulsion solution will provide the US Air Force with an RD-180 replacement rapidly and at a highly competitive cost."

Having led to successful launches within the government and commercial industries over the past decades, the solid rocket motors are optimal for first-stage performance due to their ability to provide high lift-off thrust, enabling more payload margin.

In addition to this, the motors require less ground and launch infrastructure, resulting in fewer launch scrubs.

"ATK’s propulsion solution will provide the US Air Force with an RD-180 replacement rapidly and at a highly competitive cost."

Manufacturing and testing of ATK’s RD-180 replacement solution is scheduled to be carried out within the US using tooling and infrastructure already in place across the country.

Designed and developed by NPO Energomash, the RD-180 is a derivative of the RD-170/RD-171 line of rocket engines, and features a dual-combustion chamber and dual-nozzle design.

On 21 August, the USAF made an official request for information to the industry for a new "booster propulsion and/or launch system materiel options that could deliver cost-effective, commercially-viable solutions for current and future National Security Space (NSS) launch requirements. "

In May, Russia announced plans to ban the US from using Russian-made rocket engines for military launches in response to escalation in tensions between the two countries over the Ukrainian crisis.

Image: The RD-180 rocket engine being tested at the Marshall Space Flight Center Advanced Engine Test Facility in US. Photo: courtesy of NASA, Image ID: MSFC-9808476.

Defence Technology