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Russia may use RD-180 engine for super-heavy carrier rocket

RD-180 engines are used on the first stages of US Atlas space launch vehicles and have never been mounted on domestic rockets

ZHUHAI /China/, November 9. /TASS/. The RD-180 engine may be mounted on Russia’s super-heavy carrier rocket and modernized Soyuz-2 launchers, Energomash CEO Igor Arbuzov told TASS at the Airshow China exhibition on Friday.

"As part of the work to develop a concept of the super-heavy carrier rocket, the option of using the RD-180 engine on the second stage of the carrier rocket is being considered," the chief executive said.

"Also, in view of its reliability and indisputable leadership in its class, the possibility of using it on newly-created and modernized domestic launchers is being considered. In particular, its use for modernizing Soyuz-2 rockets may be considered," he added.

As Energomash Chief Designer Pyotr Lavochkin explained, "This is consonant with the concept, which suggests that all the parts of the super-heavy rocket should be flight elements featuring their serial production and the statistics of launches."

RD-180 engines are used on the first stages of US Atlas space launch vehicles and have never been mounted on domestic rockets. An engine variant was planned for its use in the project of the Russian Rus-M carrier but the program was halted.

Contracts signed by Energomash for the delivery of RD-180 engines to the United States are valid through 2020 when six such engines are scheduled to be transferred to the US side. Energomash may also exercise an option on the delivery of RD-180 engines to the United States in 2021.

In 2014, the US Congress imposed a ban on the use of RD-180 engines amid a deterioration of relations with Russia but lifted it in 2015 when it became clear that the United States would be unable to manufacture rocket engines on its own in the next few years. However, as NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine said in August, the United States will continue developing alternatives to RD-180 engines.

Super-heavy carrier rocket

Head of Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos Dmitry Rogozin earlier said that all of Roscosmos’s design bureaus would participate in developing a super-heavy carrier rocket.

According to Rogozin, Energia Space Rocket Corporation has already examined proposals on the rocket’s technical design and a plan of organizational measures.

In accordance with the designers’ plans, the Russian super-heavy carrier rocket should be able to deliver more than 70 tonnes of cargo into low near-Earth orbit at the first stage. Its basic task is to provide for a possibility of flights into deep space, in particular, to the Moon, Mars and other planets. The construction of infrastructure for this rocket is due to begin at the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far East in 2026 and its first launch is scheduled to take place in 2028.

The concept of creating a super-heavy carrier rocket envisages maximally utilizing the accumulated technological potential. The super-heavy carrier rocket will also incorporate the elements and technologies of the medium-class Soyuz-5 launch vehicle, which Russia is developing. In Roscosmos’s estimates, the work to create a super-heavy carrier rocket and build the required infrastructure for it will cost 1.5 trillion rubles ($22.7 billion). 

As was reported earlier, Roscosmos has started preparations for drafting a federal target program for creating a super-heavy carrier rocket.