Amid RD-180 Debate, Russia Aims To Sell Engines to China

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WASHINGTON – Russian leaders are hoping to sell rocket engines to China as part of an wide-reaching effort that includes increased cooperation on space matters between the two countries, according to Russia’s state-run media.

Dmitry Rogozin, the deputy prime minister of Russia who oversees the country’s space sector, said in a July 7 report by Russia’s state-run TASS news agency that the two nations are discussing a broad agreement that would detail the intellectual property rights of Russian technology products to be sold in China.

“These above all include rocket engines,” Rogozin said. “China is especially interested in it.”

Rogozin made the comments after meeting with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yang, in Irksutk, Russia, where the two discussed space, satellite navigation and other topics in preparation for a meeting later this year between the heads of both countries.

“Russia is willing to, together with China, optimize trade structure, expand logistics channels, intensify financial cooperation, facilitate mutual investment, and strengthen cooperation in high-tech, aviation and space, nuclear energy and other fields, so as to push forward bilateral economic and trade cooperation to a new high.” the Chinese Embassy said July 6 in a prepared statement.

NPO Energomash of Russia produces liquid-fueled rocket engines for Russia’s Soyuz, Angara and Baikal launch vehicles and Ukraine’s Zenit launcher, which is marketed by Sea Launch for commercial launches.

Energomash has found success abroad with derivatives of its RD-170 engine. United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket has used the RD-180 engine since its inception. ULA buys the engines through Florida-based RD Amross, a joint venture between Energomash and Hartford, Connecticut-based United Technologies Corp. The rocket engine costs ULA about $25 million, industry sources have said.

Energomash is supplying another RD-170 variant, the RD-181, to Orbital ATK as a replacement for Russian-built AJ-26 engines Orbital blamed for the the October failure of its Antares launch vehicle.

Following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine last year, Russian engines have been a hot button for U.S. lawmakers. In a defense bill last year, Congress directed the U.S. Air Force to stop using Russian rocket engines. ULA, which already has a large batch of RD-180s on order, says it needs 14 more engines to stay competitive in the military market until its next generation rocket, known as Vulcan and powered by a U.S.-made engine, is ready around 2020. The House version of the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1735) permits ULA to procure all 14 engines for Air Force launches, but the Senate version allows only nine. The difference is a major sticking point between leaders of the two chambers.

But the potential sale to China would further complicate matters. U.S. Defense Department officials regularly describe China and Russia as the two countries that pose the greatest threats to U.S. national security space satellites. Rogozin said the rocket engines would be used for China’s lunar missions

“Recent reports of potential sales of Russian rocket engines to China adds to my concerns regarding Russia, and reaffirms my conviction of the importance of developing a US engine that ends our reliance on Russian rocket engines,” Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), the chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said in a July 15 email to SpaceNews. “We’ve got an engine problem, not a launch vehicle problem.”

Bradley Akubuiro, a spokesman for Pratt & Whitney, a division of United Technologies,declined to comment.