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

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.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

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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