HUNTSVILLE, ALABAMA, July 29, 1998 – Lockheed Martin Astronautics made history today by successfully conducting the first test firing of a Russian rocket engine at a U.S. government facility. An RD-180 engine with its prototype Atlas IIIA rocket booster stage rumbled for 10 seconds at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Astronautics will use the RD-180 engine to power its new Atlas III rockets and the company’s family of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELV), being developed in cooperation with the U.S. Air Force. Two more tests are planned over the next two months. The duration of each of the subsequent tests will be 70 seconds.
The tests are being conducted in Marshall’s massive Advanced Engine Test Facility, which was used in years past to test Space Shuttle Main Engines and the Saturn V rocket engines that boosted Apollo astronauts to the Moon. The RD-180’s thrust is 860,000 pounds, compared with 1.5 million pounds of thrust generated by the Saturn V rocket’s first stage engine, the F-1. A Space shuttle Main Engine produces 375,000 pounds of thrust.
“This test was an important milestone in our development of the new Atlas III and EELV rockets that will enable us to reduce assembly time and improve operational capability while cutting costs,” said Dr. Raymond S. Colladay, president of Lockheed Martin Astronautics. “As a result, we will enhance our ability to ensure mission success for our international and domestic customers.”
The tests at Marshall are designed to demonstrate the performance of the engine and associated elements of the rocket including avionics, propellant tanks and feedlines, electronics and hydraulics.
Lockheed Martin has established an international teaming relationship with the RD AMROSS, LLC joint venture that was formed by the Russian company NPO Energomash and Pratt & Whitney, an operating unit of United Technologies Corporation, to co-produce the RD-180 engines under exclusive contract for Lockheed Martin.
Compared to Lockheed Martin’s Atlas IIAS model, the most powerful configuration of the current Atlas family, the new Atlas IIIA featuring the RD-180 reduces the number of engines that power the rocket from nine to two, reduces the number of parts by more than 15,000 and is simpler and less costly to build and operate. First launch of the Atlas IIIA is planned for early 1999.
The Air Force envisions that the EELV will eventually replace the existing Delta, Atlas and Titan space launch vehicles for use in launching a wide range of government and commercial payloads. First launch of the EELV is planned for 2001.
The RD-180 is currently undergoing additional testing at NPO Energomash facilities in Khimky, Russia. Nine developmental engines already have been successfully test fired for a total of more than 10,000 seconds. During a typical Atlas IIIA mission, the engine would operate for 186 seconds.
Astronautics is one of the operating units of Lockheed Martin’s Space & Strategic Missiles Sector headquartered in Bethesda, MD. Astronautics designs, develops, tests and manufactures a variety of advanced technology systems for space and defense. Chief products include planetary spacecraft and other space systems, space launch systems and ground systems.