WASHINGTON, DC – On December 9th, Fortune Magazine commented on the limited rocket engine options available to America’s spaceflight industry. This especially applies to Orbital Sciences, which desperately needs new engines to fulfill its NASA contract after its Antares rocket powered by a “refurbished, Soviet-era AJ26 engine” exploded shortly after liftoff on its way to the International Space Station this past October.
I don’t see the market growing strongly enough in the next few years to spur new entrants into the market…” –Jonathan Beland
Political tensions between the US and Russia are high at present, and Oribital’s shareholders are not likely to favor the company using another Russian engine to get NASA’s cargo into space. Unfortunately, at present Russian engines are the most compatible, affordable and readily available. Russian firm Energomash produces the RD-193, which employs liquid-fueled propulsion–ideal for Orbital’s rockets. Meanwhile, domestic engine manufacturers do not have ready-made alternatives for the right price, although that will change over time. Orbital’s merger with ATK will provide it with access to ATK’s solid fuel engine options, but that still leaves the commercial spaceflight industry under-served in terms of overall engines in the near term.
Click here to read “Russia, Orbital Sciences, and the American rocket problem.”