Air Force requests info for new engine


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Corporate welfare: The Air Force on Thursday issued a request for information from industry for the replacement of the Russian-made engines used by ULA’s Atlas 5 rocket.

Companies are being asked to respond by Sept. 19 to 35 questions. Among them: “What solution would you recommend to replace the capability currently provided by the RD-180 engine?” Air Force officials have told Congress they only have a broad idea of how to replace the RD-180. Estimates of the investment in money and time necessary to field an American-built alternative vary widely. Congress, meanwhile, is preparing bills that would fund a full-scale engine development program starting next year; the White House is advocating a more deliberate approach that begins with an examination of applicable technologies.

In the request for information, the Air Force says it is open to a variety of options including an RD-180 facsimile, a new design, and alternative configurations featuring multiple engines, and even a brand new rocket. The Air Force is also trying to decide on the best acquisition approach. Options include a traditional acquisition or a shared investment as part of a public-private partnership. [emphasis mine]

The Atlas 5 is built by Lockheed Martin. This is really their problem, not the Air Force or ULA. In addition, the Air Force has other options, both from Boeing’s Delta rocket family as well as SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. For the government to fund this new engine is nothing more than corporate welfare, at a time when the federal government is swimming in debt and is essentially bankrupt.

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5 comments

  • Juan in TN

    Well, it appears they are deadset on going this route so why don’t they dig up a design that is already well along in development. I am specifically thinking of the RS-84. I am not a rocket scientist but wasn’t it pretty much completed before it was cancelled? Even if it wasn’t why can’t it be completed? It would have to be cheaper than a clean sheet.

  • geoffc

    How about resurect the F-1? 1.5 Million lbs thrust is a bit higher than the 933Klbs of the RD-180 and lower ISP (328 for RD-180, 263s for F-1).

    But you ought to be able to get bigger payloads to orbit this way! :)

  • fred k

    It is important to note that *any* engine replacement represents a new rocket. The new engine will have different mass distribution, different aerodynamics, etc, etc. Attaching a new engine to the same tanks will require the same amount of testing as designing a “new rocket” consisting of new tanks and a new engine.

    I suspect ULA would like to have confusion on this subject because is sounds better to have a new engine (and implicitly continue to use them as the provider) rather than switch providers.

    In fact, it may be much, much simpler and much, much cheaper to move the payload to another launcher.

  • Tom Billings

    The F-1 cannot be throttled, IIRC. Thus, the MaxQ would be hugely greater than with the RD-180.

    The rational thing would be to throttle down the SpaceX Raptor engine, and use that to replace the RD-180. LockMart and Boeing would both rather fall on their slide rules than do that, however. Oh yeah, … the managers never heard of slide rules, …but they still wouldna’ do it.

  • Pzatchok

    Not if they design it to match very closely the engines they are already using.

    They even have examples to reverse engineer from if they want to go that way.

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