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Russian rocket producer Energiya has signed a $1 billion contract with US Orbital Sciences Corporation for the delivery of 60 RD-181 engines. These engines will propel the US Antares rocket. This, according to a recent statement from company’s press service.
“Energia President Vladimir Solntsev and Orbital Sciences Corporation General Director David Thompson signed a direct contract worth around $1 billion on the delivery to the United States of engines produced by Energomash,” the statement said. Energomash is a subsidiary of Energia.
According to the press release, the contract also includes a provision on a range of services including flight training, installation of the engine on the rocket and engine tests. The contract, which represents three years of effort on the part of Energia, envisages cooperation to last 15 to 25 years. This, according to company president Solntsev.
The first two engines, which are used on carrier rockets to deliver cargoes to the International Space Station, will be delivered in June 2015.
Back in December 2014, Orbital said that they looked at several other propulsion providers. Nevertheless, they ultimately decided to use the RD-181 engines because the Russia-designed engine offered “the best combination of schedule availability, technical performance and cost parameters as compared to other possible options.”
This is the second large-scale deal Energomash has made with a US company. In the late 1990s, the company won a contract with United Launch Alliance to supply RD-180 engines for US Atlas rockets.
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This contract, also valued at about $1 billion, is still going strong. After all, Atlas missiles are still in operational service. However, last October, the Antares rocket, which was supposed to deliver over two tons of cargo to the ISS, exploded six seconds after launch from the Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. The RD-181 engines are designed for its first stage in the framework of its flight into space.
American Atlas rockets are built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) – a conglomerate of U.S. aerospace industry giants Lockheed Martin and Boeing. ULA is regularly contracted to launch important U.S. national security satellites into orbit.
The supply of RD-180 engines for such an important national security role has come under harsh scrutiny amid the crisis in Ukraine, which has sparked tit-for-tat sanctions between Russia and the West over Moscow’s support of Ukrainian separatists. Russia has threatened to end supplies of the RD-180s, but stopped short of a full ban. Instead, Moscow says it is prohibiting deliveries of engines destined for U.S. military launches.
ULA says it has two years worth of the engines in stock, and recently announced a partnership with another U.S. space firm – Blue Origin, created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos – to create a next- generation U.S. engine to liberate the industry from Russia’s dominance of the field.