The RD-180 Rocket Engine Issue Guide


The Issue Guide Series is a series of reports researched and written by the George C. Marshall Institute. The series examines current issues facing the space community while providing background information on important problems and policy decisions.

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Introduction to the RD-180 Engine Policy Issue

One of the most reliable rockets for launching spacecraft is the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Atlas V launch vehicle.  The Atlas V is a two-stage expendable launch vehicle that relies on two separate types of engines, one Russian-made RD-180 engine for the first stage and the domestically produced RL-10 engine for the second stage. Currently, the Atlas V is one of three launch vehicles families certified in the Air Force’s Evolved Expendable launch Vehicle (EELV) Program certified to launch national security payloads. The Atlas V is relied upon heavily to launch national security spacecraft. After Russia threatened to ban the export of the RD-180 engine used for launching national security payloads in May 2014, the wisdom of relying on the engine seems less obvious. This Issue Guide reviews the history of the Russian engine in U.S. launch vehicles, examines how use of the RD-180 engine became problematic, and considers the potential results of a ban of the RD-180 engine.


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