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WASHINGTON, November 11. /TASS/. U.S. space launch company United Launch Alliance, a Boeing-Lockheed Martin joint venture, will continues using Russian engines RD-180 on Atlas 5 carrier rockets for another seven to nine years, ULA President Tory Bruno said on Monday in an interview with Space News.
The two corporations threw shoulder into the efforts to design an American rocket engine that would replace the Russian RD-180 engines over time. For this purpose, the companies signed an agreement in September with the Blue Origin company that had already earned acclaim.
Still, one needs years to create an engine of this kind and this means the U.S. will continue buying the engines from Russia for five, six or more than seven years and using them for a couple of years more after their purchases stop, Bruno said.
He confirmed the Russian-U.S. joint venture RD Amros, which exports five RD-180 engines to the U.S. a year, has agreed to increase the supplies and the American side is expected to get eight engines next year.
Bruno said replacement of the propulsion unit at the Altas 5 rockets would require an overhaul of the entire first stage of the booster rocket. The BE-4 engine, now in the phase of development, would burn liquefied methane, unlike the RD-180 that burned an oxygen-kerosene mix, and this would necessitate an enlargement of the fuel tank.
ULA and Blue Origin plan to complete the new engine in about five years’ time and to install it on next-generation carrier rockets. Their plans suggest it be used on a rocket during a launch in 2019 for the first time.
ULA has also signed an agreement on developing a new-generation engine with Aerojet Rocketdyne corporation. Bruno called it an escape plan in case Blue Origin got some problems.
Discussions of the importance of an own rocket engine flared up in the U.S. in May after some officials said Moscow might stop supplies of the RD-180 engines to the Americans if the Pentagon continued to use them for launching spy satellites into orbit.