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Atlas V EELV - Lockheed-Martin

The Lockheed Martin Atlas V resulted from Lockheed Martin's combination of the best practices from both the Atlas and Titan programs into an evolved commercial and government launch system for the 21st century. Atlas V built on the design innovations demonstrated on Atlas III and incorporated a structurally stable booster propellant tank, enhanced payload fairing options and optional strap-on solid rocket boosters.

The first four Atlas V were successfully launched on 21 August 2002, 13 May 2003, 17 July 2003, and 17 December 2004 respectively. These launches represented two flights each of two different Atlas V configurations. The Atlas V family uses a single-stage Atlas main engine, the Russian RD-180 and the newly developed Common Core Booster (CCB) with up to five strap-on solid rocket boosters. The CCB is 12.5 ft. (3.8 m) in diameter by 106.6 ft. (32.5m) long and uses 627,105 lbs. (284,453 kg) of liquid oxygen and RP-1 rocket fuel propellants.

The Atlas V-Heavy (Atlas V-H) configuration has been available available 30 months from order. It would use three CCB stages strapped together to provide the capability necessary to lift the heaviest spacecraft.

Additionally, on Atlas V, Lockheed Martin introduced a 4.57-meter usable diameter Contraves payload fairing in addition to retaining the option to use the heritage Atlas payload fairings. The Contraves fairing was a composite design and is based on flight proven hardware. Three configurations would be manufactured to support Atlas V. The short and medium length configurations would be used on the Atlas V 500 series. The long configuration would be used on the Atlas V-H.

The Centaur upper stage uses a pressure stabilized propellant tank design and cryogenic propellants. The Centaur stage for Atlas V was stretched 5.5 ft (1.68 m) and is powered by either one or two Pratt & Whitney RL10A-4-2 engines, each engine developing a thrust of 22,300 lbs. (99.2 kN). Operational and reliability upgrades were enabled with the RL10A-4-2 engine configuration. The inertial navigation unit (INU) located on the Centaur provides guidance and navigation for both Atlas and Centaur, and controls both Atlas and Centaur tank pressures and propellant use. The Centaur engines are capable of multiple in-space starts, making possible insertion into low-earth parking orbit, followed by a coast period and then insertion into GTO. An upgrade to a Fault Tolerant INU is currently in development and will further enhance mission reliability for all Atlas vehicles.

The US plans to discontinue the use of Russian RD-180 engines. The decision was passed by the US Congress in early December 2014. The need to develop a new US engine had been discussed over the previous decade. The drastic deterioration in US-Russian relations over the conflict in Ukraine has further spurred American politicians’ desire to end dependence on Russian supplies.

Senator John McCain demanded that the US Department of Defense immediately end its cooperation with companies that purchase Russian engines. However, the Committee on Armed Services concluded that the move could threaten U.S. national security.

That is why the ULA was permitted to continue using Russian engines until 2019, when an American replacement is scheduled to be ready. The U.S. will have to spend over $577 billion to develop a new engine. According to a recent piece in Fortune, there are no strong players on the American market at the moment able to create a competitive equivalent.

Russian experts point out that this decision might destroy a whole segment of the market since the RD-180 engine was specifically designed for U.S. rockets. “There is a close link between an engine and a carrier rocket,” said Ivan Moiseyev, head of the Space Policy Institute. “In order to use the RD-180 in Russia or China, it would be necessary to design a launch system that would meet each country’s specific characteristics. So far, there are no projects like that.”

When the United States decided to utilize a foreign engine, RD–180, to boost our rockets into space, it was also agreed that production of that engine would ultimately occur in the United States. For whatever reason, whether it was for economic reasons or inattention, this never occurred.

A massive "must-pass" omnibus spending bill released by Congress on 16 December 2015 would lift the ban on Russian rocket engines being used to launch US military payloads into space. The new bill mandates that competition be open to "all certified providers" of military space launch vehicles "regardless of the country of origin of the rocket engine that will be used on its launch vehicle, in order to ensure robust competition and continued assured access to space."

The legislation also opened the door for the United Launch Alliance (ULA) to re-enter the Pentagon's request for bids to manufacture the rockets that send US satellites into orbit. The ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin and has long been the primary contractor for launching US Defense Department payloads, including national security satellites. The firm relies on the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine, which was banned in the fiscal 2015 defense budget.

In November 2015, the ULA declined to bid for the right to launch a GPS 3 satellite in 2018, leaving Elon Musk's SpaceX company as the sole bidder for the contract. The ULA cited the engine ban among multiple reasons it did not bid.

Some experts, including Senator John McCain, viewed the ULA exit from the competition as an attempt to strongarm the government into lifting the RD-180 ban. McCain pointed out that the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act provided some relief from the ban by permitting the ULA to use nine RD-180s – four more than allowed last year – for upcoming Air Force bids during the transition to non-Russian propulsion systems. However, the ULA said those engines are committed to other missions, and cannot be reassigned on short notice.

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