Delta III doubts

When the development of the Delta III started, the plan was to introduce it in 1998 as a companion to the Delta II, but during the struggle to iron out the bugs the development of the Delta IV had started and the Delta III was now seen simply as a means of testing the new cryogenic stage, after which it would be phased out without ever serving as a commercial launcher.105

The launch of the Delta III on 23 August 2000.

A RE-ENGINED ATLAS

Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US launch vehicle makers sought commercial relationships with their eastern counterparts. In October 1992 Energomash agreed to divide in half its four-nozzle RD-170 engine, which Pratt & Whitney would market as the RD-180.106 In June 1993 Aerojet approached NK-Engines, the commercial arm of the Samara State Scientific and Production Enterprise with an invitation to make available the kerosene and oxygen engine that it had developed under the guidance of Nikolai Kuznetsov (hence the designation 'NK') in the 1960s.107 The first stage of the ill-fated N-1 moonrocket had been powered by 30 of these units. Unfortunately, all four launches suffered first-stage failures.108,1°9 When the N-1 was finally cancelled, 100 engines were placed in storage.110,111,11V13 On 23 May 1995 Aerojet signed a protocol to enable it to manufacture the engine under licence as the AJ-26-NK-33A, with the 'A' showing that they were to be modified, chiefly by the replacement of the valve actuators and electrical wiring, and by the installation of gimballing for thrust vectoring.114 By using a different design approach, Kuznetsov had obtained a high performance without having to push the technical limits as far as was done in America.115 ''It is what we would call a design-to-cost approach,'' observed Marc T. Constantine, Aerojet's director of strategic and space propulsion, adding, ''even though they were well funded.'' Design-to-cost was to be the American strategy in the emerging and highly competitive international launch vehicle market. Although it had a thrust of only 340,000 to 380,000 pounds, the NK-33 had a large thrust-to-weight ratio and two of them could match the three-engined Rocketdyne power plant of the Atlas. In July Aerojet imported its first engines and sent them to its Sacramento test facility to verify their performance.116^17 The Americans were surprised that 100 members of the original technical staff were still working for the company. Having survived long enough to witness a renewal of interest in his engine, Kuznetsov passed away on 30 July 1995. As Energomash reported to the Russian Space Agency and NK-Engines reported to the Russian Defence Ministry, the space agency opposed the NK-33 deal, arguing that it would threaten the RD-180, but the Russian government refused to intervene and left the ventures to compete.118

Launch services was a fiercely competitive niche market, and the development of a new rocket by one company influenced its competitors. Just as positive feedback drove the continuous development in the communications satellite business, the race to install global telecommunications services was driving the development of new, more effective launchers.119 As the market shifted to payloads exceeding the capacity of the Atlas IIAS, Lockheed Martin decided to phase out the Atlas I, for which it was receiving ever fewer orders, and to develop a more powerful vehicle to supersede the Atlas IIAS.120 As a sign of the company's confidence, whereas McDonnell Douglas had announced its Delta III only after Hughes booked 10 launches, Lockheed Martin initiated development prior to securing orders. Just as the Delta III was to enable McDonnell Douglas to compete with the Atlas in the 'intermediate' market, the new Atlas was to enable Lockheed Martin to compete more effectively with the heavier Chinese, Japanese and European launchers. It was clear that a significant improvement of the

Atlas would require a departure from its lineage. The core of the Atlas IIAR ('R' for 're-engined') was to have a new engine able to exceed the performance of the Atlas IIAS with its strap-ons, and the Centaur would employ either one or two engines to suit the requirements of the payload.121,122>123 Later, the core would be fitted with strap-ons.124 The plan was to introduce the Atlas IIAR in 1998, and phase out the Atlas II, Atlas IIA and Atlas IIAS by 2000. However, on reflection the company decided to build an additional eight Atlas IIAS vehicles to assure operations through 2002 just in case the development of its successor was delayed.125 There were three candidates for the new engine: the RD-180, the NK-33, and an upgrade of the Rocketdyne MA-5A that was then in use.126,12V28 As they all burned kerosene and oxygen, propellant was not a factor in the decision. However, Lockheed Martin had specified that the new engine should be throttleable down to 50 per cent to enable the new vehicle to serve as a 'one size fits all' launcher for a range of payload masses, and to give its payload a 'softer' ride. (Only two of the four strap-ons of the Atlas IIAS were ignited for lift-off, the others were air-started in order to limit the acceleration loads imposed on the payload.) The NK-33 and the RD-180 could be throttled, but the MA-5A could not.129,130,131 In fact, Rocketdyne did not have the resources to devote to a major upgrade of the Atlas power plant, because it was building the throttleable RS-68 cryogenic engine for the Delta IV,132 and in a letter dated 28 September it withdrew from the competition.133 However, Lockheed Martin did not reveal this until the closing date for proposals on 16 November 1995,134 the issue of concern presumably being that if the Russians discovered that they had a clear field, they might push for a better deal. The decision between the NK-33 and the RD-180 was to be made early in the new year. Meanwhile, there was another factor to be considered.

THE EVOLVED EXPENDABLE LAUNCH VEHICLE

In 1994 the Air Force conceived the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) programme in order to replace the Delta, Atlas and Titan with a single family of launch vehicles that would satisfy its requirements through to 2020. One of the goals was to cut launch costs by 25-50 per cent compared to the Delta and Atlas. In November 1994 a cap of $2 billion was put on the programme.135 The Request for Proposals was issued in May 1995.136,13? As the White House desired a 'dual use' launcher that would be capable of competing commercially in addition to serving the government's needs, the proposers would not be obliged to work to full military specifications. In September the Air Force gave Lockheed Martin, McDonnell Douglas, Alliant Techsystems and Boeing $30 million each to submit concepts by September 1996.138 In view of the longstanding rule that only 'All-American' rockets could launch government satellites, the Air Force warned that it would consider a proposal involving Russian engines only if these were manufactured in the USA.

Lockheed Martin selects the RD-180

In January 1996 Lockheed Martin selected the RD-180 to power the first stage of the Atlas IIAR.139 The contract was contingent on the Russian government issuing an

The evolved expendable launch vehicle 157

Country

UNITED STATES

RUSSIA

FRANCE

CHINA

JAPAN

Reliability

□ella

Alias

man 4

TiyKlon

Soyiiz

Proton

Zenit

Arlane 4

LM-4 LM-2C

LM-2E

LM-3

LM-3A

H-2

Tolal

94.6%

90%

M.4%

93.1%

80.8%

78.9%

94.6%

100% 100%

75%

70%

100%

100%

(212/224) (225/251) (170/18«)

(224/235)

noo&'ioes) ( 190/214)

(15/19)

OM7)

(2/2) (14/14)

(3/4)

(7/9)

(1/1)

(22)

Lasl 20 Flights

100%

85%

m

100%

100%

m

78.9%

95%

100% 10«

75%

75%

100%

10«

I/'.^C;

(17/20)

(ia/20)

(20/20)

(20/20)

(13(20)

(15/19)

(19/20)

(2/2) (14/14)

(3/4)

(7/9)

(1/1)

(2/2)

Lasl 5 Years

mm

84.211

85.7%

97.5%

100%

95.6%

$2.5%

93.«%

100% lOOfti

75%

75%

100%

10«,

(40/40)

{16/19}

(12/14)

(44/45)

(133/133)

(43/45)

(518)

(30/32)

(1/1) (3«)

(3/4)

(3/4)

(1/1)

(2/2)

Last lOYaars

san

86.5%

86.7%

97.5%

100%

93.2%

78.9%

94.6%

100% 100Í4

75%

85%

100%

100%

(40/491

(32/37)

(26/30)

(117/120)

(330/339)

(96/103)

(15/19)

(35/37)

(M) M

(3/4)

(5/7)

(1/1)

(2/2)

AVIATION WEEK â SPACE TECHNOLOGY/February 20, 19*5

The world's launch vehicles circa 1995, as compiled by Aviation Week & Space Technology using data from the Department of Defense.

AVIATION WEEK â SPACE TECHNOLOGY/February 20, 19*5

The world's launch vehicles circa 1995, as compiled by Aviation Week & Space Technology using data from the Department of Defense.

export licence. With 362,880 kilograms of thrust, the RD-180 was not only more powerful than the previous power plant, it also could maintain a constant specific impulse as it throttled down to 37 per cent. This flexible performance enabled it to be proposed for the EELV, which required a vehicle capable of placing payloads with masses ranging from 2,500 to 45,000 pounds into low orbit as well as being able to deliver 13,500 pounds directly into geostationary orbit.140 Lockheed Martin praised the RD-180 as "literally the world's greatest rocket engine''. Although it had a single combustion chamber this had a pair of nozzles, giving the impression that it was a twin engine. It operated at high pressure, but because it operated oxygen-rich it ran cooler than US high-performance engines - a factor that enhanced its reliability. The first test firing in the USA was on 15 November 1996.141 In June 1997 Lockheed Martin placed a $1 billion order for 101 engines.142 Energomash and Pratt & Whitney set up a joint venture to make it under licence in West Palm Beach, Florida, independently of the production plant at Khimsky near Moscow.14V44

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