Air Force Pushes Ahead With Rocket Engine Efforts

Atlas V rocket launch.

Atlas V rocket launch.

March 12, 2018 | Source: National Defense, nationaldefensemagazine.org, 24 January 2018, Connie Lee

The Air Force Research Laboratory’s initiative to help lessen the service’s reliance on Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine has passed a major milestone, according to service officials.

The kick pump of the hydrocarbon boost program recently completed testing at different power levels, said program manager Robert Bernstein. The program is aimed at developing advanced staged combustion cycle technologies. The kick pump raises the pressure of the fuel for use by the other components of the engine.

“By the implementation of this kick pump, we’re basically able to tailor the amount of fuel that we want to raise to the extreme high pressures, making us more efficient by reducing the amount of horsepower we actually need,” said Nils Sedano, technical advisor for AFRL’s liquid engines branch.

The RD-180 engine is currently used for the first stage of the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas V launch vehicle. The push to find an alternative to the Russian-made system has accelerated since the country’s annexation of Crimea in Ukraine in 2014, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Rising tensions with Moscow have spurred the military and industry to examine alternatives to the system.