Orbital ATK Receives New Antares Engines; Launch Accident Report Nears Completion

A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.
A massive explosion occurred right after the Antares rocket hit the ground.

Orbital ATK has received the first two Russian-built RD-181 rocket engines for use in the company’s revamped Antares launch vehicle, the TASS news agency reports.

RSC Energia said the engines arrived in the United States on July 16 after being shipped from Russia the previous day. Energia is the managing organization for the engine’s manufacturer, NPO Energomash.

The RD-181 motors will be used in the first stage of the rocket. They will replace aging AJ-26 engines the company decided to stop using after one of them exploded during a launch last October. The AJ-26s are revamped NK-33 engines left over from the Soviet Union’s manned lunar program.

The first launch of the revamped Antares booster is set for next March. The rocket will carry a Cygnus cargo ship bound for the International Space Station.

Meanwhile, Orbital ATK is close to completing its investigation into the Antares failure last October.

At a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory July 29, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said he believed Orbital ATK “is about ready” to deliver its report on the Oct. 28 launch failure to the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation. Orbital had led the investigation into the FAA-licensed launch of a Cygnus cargo spacecraft intended to resupply the International Space Station.

“We feel pretty confident in the results” of that investigation, Bolden said, without going into detail about what the report concluded. “We think that it was very thorough and really appreciate the conclusions that were found.”

In previous statements, officials have pointed to the failure of a bearing in a turbo-pump on one of the AJ-26 engines supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne. There has been disagreement over whether the bearing was faulty, or if it was damaged by debris from the fuel tank or plumbing.