A decision in November on Orbital’s reliance on Russian engines in Antares

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The competition heats up: Orbital Sciences has announced that it will make a decision in November on replacing the Russian rocket engine that it uses in its Antares commercial rocket.

In a presentation at the 65th International Astronautical Congress here, Orbital Executive Vice President Frank Culbertson said the engine decision is linked to the company’s proposal for NASA’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS)2 competition. NASA issued the request for proposals for CRS2 on Sept. 26, with responses due Nov. 14. “We’ll make sure we’ll have a decision on that before we submit the proposal,” Culbertson said when asked about the status of the engine decision.

Orbital has been weighing for several months a replacement for the AJ-26 engines that Antares currently uses. Those engines, provided by Aerojet Rocketdyne, are refurbished versions of Soviet-era NK-33 engines originally designed for the N-1 lunar rocket developed in the 1960s.

The company is considering several proposals, including one from ATK, which is in the process of merging with Orbital at this very moment.

The article also notes that Orbital recognizes that the use of Russian engines will likely work against them in the competition to win the next ISS cargo contract, and that if they don’t have a plan to replace those engines it is quite possible that NASA will go with a different company, such as Sierra Nevada, when it awards that contract.

As I said already, oh how I love competition.


One comment

  • Tom Billings

    I could wish that SNC were one of the companies bargaining to supply booster engines to Orbital. If Orbital is considering a solid, then hybrids’ problems with vibrations are probably not a deal-breaker. While their expertise in hybrids would give them a chance to expand into a booster-scale device on that path, I am afraid that their vortex-cooled engines, inherited from their recent purchase of Orbitec, may be about 5X too small yet, to make a jump to booster-scale engines in the coming generation.

    In 4-5 years that may change, however.

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