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RD-180 rocket engine launches into another milestone

Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif. March 27, 1998 DENVER, Colo. - A Russian-designed RD-180 rocket engine was successfully test-fired for nearly two hours recently in Khimsky, Russia.

The engine is destined to power Lockheed Martin Astronautics' new Atlas IIAR and the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle family of rockets.

A major development milestone was reached because the test-firing represents approximately one half of the total test-firing time planned. The test is also the equivalent of more than 37 Atlas IIAR flights, in comparison to the 186 seconds the engine will operate during a typical Atlas IIAR mission.

Lockheed Martin Astronautics and the Boeing Company's Space Systems, formerly McDonnell Douglas Aerospace of Huntington Beach, Calif., are both developing the EELV under a U.S. Air Force contract. The Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Calif., oversees that Air Force contract.

When asked about the progress of EELV, Col. Richard W. McKinney, the Space and Missile Systems Center's EELV program director said, "Both contractors are doing well, and we are proceeding on schedule to complete the second phase of the EELV program."

The RD-180 has been undergoing extensive testing at NPO Energomash facilities in Russia. Eight out of 10 planned developmental engines have already been successfully test fired.

The Atlas IIAR will achieve initial launch capability in December 1998 and an early 1999 commercial satellite launch. The first scheduled launch of Lockheed Martin's EELV version is for the year 2001.

A prototype Atlas IIAR booster stage, including an RD-180 engine, is currently undergoing subsystem and component verification testing at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. The propulsion stage testing will culminate in a series of test-firings beginning in April. This will be the first Russian-built rocket engine to be test fired at a U.S. government facility.

The Atlas IIAR, with the new RD-180 engine, reduces the number of engines that power the rocket from nine to two, compared to Lockheed Martin's current Atlas IIAS model. It also has 10,000 fewer parts, a simpler design, increased reliability and costs less to build and operate.

The purpose of EELV is to reduce the cost of launch by 25 to 50 percent. The Air Force envisions that the EELV will replace the existing Delta, Atlas and Titan space launch vehicles for use in launching a wide range of government and commercial payloads.

Air Force officials hope to complete the second phase, which includes pre-engineering and manufacturing development, early this summer and transition into the actual EMD phase.

(Story courtesy of Lockheed Martin Astrospace Communications Division and Evan McCollum)

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