US receives first rocket engines of $1bn contract with Russia

Russia has delivered the first two of 60 RD-181 rocket engines to the US’ Orbital Sciences Corporation for its Antares launcher.

According to the Russian rocket manufacturer, Energyia, the first two engines were successfully shipped to the US last month; though estimated dates for subsequent deliveries hasn’t been officially confirmed.

Energyia signed a US$1bn contract with Orbital Sciences Corporation at the start of 2015, despite a several Western-imposed sanctions and heated debates in Congress.

Senator John McCain has voiced concerns regarding the country’s reliance on Russia for national security space launches and exploration.

The RD-181 engine was designed and manufactured specifically for the Antares rocket and it will enable more cargo to be conveyed up to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Russian firm has cooperated with the US previously, winning an ongoing contract in 1990 – also valued at US$1bn – to supply RD-180 engines for United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) Atlas rockets.

As specified by Orbital Sciences Corporation, Antares is a medium-class, two-stage launch vehicle designed to provide “responsive and low-cost access to space” and capable of carrying a payload weighing more than 7,000kg.

“The Antares design is being upgraded with newly-built RD-181 first stage engines to provide greater payload performance and increased reliability.”

With a late 2015 date set for hot fire testing, Orbital Sciences Corporation currently has its sights set on a return to flight in 2016 with launches projected in the first, second and fourth quarters to fulfil the company’s agreement with NASA to deliver supplies to the ISS.