Orbital ATK and SpaceX awarded millions to replace Russian engines

The new rocket motors are designed to replace the Russian RD-180 (pictured). Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.
The new rocket motors are designed to replace the Russian RD-180 (pictured). Image courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

The US Department of Defense (DoD) has approved millions of dollars of funding for private spaceflight companies to develop new US-manufactured rocket engines.

In a new funding document, the DoD outlined tranches of funding to Orbital ATK and SpaceX in order to help develop new liquid-fuel rocket motors.

These motors are a national security priority in the eyes of the US due to fact that many existing systems make use of the Russian-made RD-180 motor.

Deteriorating relations between the US and Russia have made continued supply of these engines uncertain, meaning that some current rocket designs could have to be discontinued.

New engines and rocket for Orbital

According to the DoD, ATK Launch Systems Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Orbital has been awarded a $46,968,005 to develop a series of engine prototypes which would be used for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.

These engines themselves would then be implemented into the first stage of a newly revealed next-generation medium-to-heavy launch vehicle.

This vehicle, which is as-yet unnamed, would make use of solid-fuel boosters strapped to its side, as well as a second state powered by BE-3U engines produced by Blue Origin.

Upon completion, this rocket would likely be in competition with the Vulcan rocket under development by ULA, and SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy, which will likely see its first flight this year.

SpaceX Raptor engine development also funded

Industry upstart SpaceX has also been awarded a similarly large sum of $33,660,254 by the DoD for further development of its Raptor engine as a prototype propulsion system for the EELV program.

While little is known about this engine, SpaceX statements have confirmed that it will be a high-efficiency rocket motor designed for use on its proposed heavy lift vehicle which it plans to send to Mars.

The DoD funding however calls for research to be done into the use of the engine in the upper stages of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets.

Both investments by the DoD will be accompanied by large contributions from the companies themselves, with Orbital ATK contributing $31,130,360 and SpaceX $67,320,506 to their respective development commitments.