The RD-180 is the engine that powers ULA’s Atlas V rocket, which is one of the launch vehicles used by the Air Force in their EELV program. The engine is fueled by liquid oxygen and kerosene and features a highly efficient oxygen rich staged combustion engine cycle. The design features a single shaft main turbopump unit and dual gimbaled thrust chambers with integrated hydraulic actuators to provide thrust vectoring for vehicle steering. The RD-180 was developed in Russia and currently produced by NPO Energomash and sold through RD AMROSS a joint venture between Pratt & Whitney and NPO Energomash.
Why was the RD-180 engine originally selected?
The decision to use the RD-180 for the Atlas V launch vehicle is a result of post-cold war cooperation between U.S. businesses and the Russian defense industry. The RD-180 relationship was urged by the U.S. government as a means of preventing Russian military technology from proliferating. The RD-180 was jointly developed by U.S. and Russian Defense Industries to provide the Atlas V with a technologically advanced and reliable engine. Since then, the Atlas V product has provided enormous value and mission assurance for ULA customers.-Back to questions-Back to top
What about the long-term use of RD-180?
ULA’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, which will launch in 2019, will have an American engine, offer the best value. With the introduction of the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage (ACES) Vulcan will have greater capability than any other rocket on the market.
ULA and Blue Origin, a privately-funded aerospace company owned by Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos, have established a long-term partnership and teaming arrangement to jointly fund development of the new BE-4 rocket engine by Blue Origin. This new collaboration will allow ULA to maintain the heritage, success and reliability of its rocket families – Atlas and Delta – while addressing the long-term need for a new domestic engine. The BE-4 is not a direct replacement for the RD-180 that powers ULA’s Atlas V rocket, however two BE-4s are expected to provide the engine thrust for the next generation ULA vehicles. -Back to questions-Back to top
How will the ongoing political unrest in Ukraine affect engine production and availability?
Currently, there is no threat to the supply of RD-180 engines and imports of the engine remain on schedule. -Back to questions-Back to top