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Other Propulsion Technology

Conventional Russian rocket engine technology has generated considerable international interest for new or improved expendable launch vehicles. The US firm Pratt & Whitney has teamed with the Energomash Scientific Production Association to market the RD-120, RD-170/RD-171, and RD-701/704 engines. A smaller, 2-nozzle version of the RD-170, called the RD-180, is under development and is being evaluated by Lockheed-Martin for possible use in the US Atlas launch vehicle. Not to be outdone, Aerojet is working with the Trud Scientific Production Association in Samara on adapting the 1960-1970's era NK-33 rocket engines (used for the ill-fated N-1 manned lunar launch vehicle) for use in the US.

Aerojet is also exploring applications of the Lyulka Engine Design Bureau's (Saturn Scientific Production Association) cryogenic D-57 engine and of the Khimavtomatiki Design Bureau's cryogenic RD-0120 flown by the Energiya launch vehicle. Energomash is also offering for commercial operations its small restartable RD-0161 liquid oxygen/ kerosene engine. However, by the end of 1994, none of these activities had resulted in a firm decision to employ Russian rocket engine technology in Western launch vehicles (References 340-363). In 1993 reports did cite a clandestine sale of several RD-170 engines to the PRC (Reference 364).

Another Russian space propulsion specialty garnering wide attention in the West is the use of ion thrusters on spacecraft for attitude control and orbital adjustments. Often referred to as Hall thrusters, the low-power, high-endurance, high-efficiency engines produced by the Fakel Design Bureau have been in use on USSR/CISLEO and GEO spacecraft since 1971. A joint Russian-American enterprise named International Space Technology, Inc. (ISTI) was formed to market engines such as the SPT-100. The principal partners of ISTI are Fakel, the Moscow Aviation Institute, and the US firm Loral. SEP of France joined the venture in 1993. In addition to substantial ground testing, ISTI has undertaken in-orbit test programs on both US and Russian spacecraft (References 365-375).

Finally, the USSR/CIS has studied the problem of designing nuclear-powered space propulsion for more than 30 years. Most concepts have involved the heating of a working fluid (e.g., liquid hydrogen) by a fission or fusion nuclear reactor. Although complex to build and operate, such nuclear-powered engines attain very high specific impulses (up to 950 seconds or more) and are considered an attractive means to send crews on interplanetary voyages. The principal organizations in the Russian Federation conducting research in this area are the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, the Research Institute for Thermal Processes, the Moscow Physical-Technical Instigate, and the Luch Scientific Production Association. Testing of nuclear engine designs was performed for many years at the Semipalatinsk proving grounds. However, in recent years, government support in both the Russian Federation and the West has declined significantly for space nuclear propulsion. A new concept for a nuclear-powered propulsion and electric power system, named Topaz-Star, was without funding in late 1994, and the simpler US-Russian Topaz II program was also faltering (References 376-388).

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Page last modified: 10-04-2016 19:06:49 ZULU