Washington Still Has No Engine to Replace Russian-Made RD-180

© Sputnik / Yuri Streletc / Go to the mediabankRD-180 rocket engine
RD-180 rocket engine - Sputnik International
US aerospace company Blue Origin suffered a setback while testing its Blue Engine 4 (BE-4), a staged-combustion rocket engine designed to replace Russian-made RD-180s, meaning that Washington still does not have an indigenously built version of a key piece of equipment needed to propel its Atlas V launch vehicles or its analogues into space.

The private company, founded by Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, lost turbopumps and valves which provide the fuel-oxidizer mix to the injectors and combustion chamber of a liquid rocket engine, in an incident said to have taken place on May 13 at a facility near Van Horn, Texas.

"We lost a set of powerpack test hardware on one of our BE-4 test stands yesterday," Blue Origin tweeted, adding that this was not something unusual at this stage. "That's why we always set up our development programs to be hardware rich. Back into testing soon."

​The company has neither provided additional details on what happened to the powerpack, nor specified when BE-4 trials are expected to resume.

A fully assembled BE-4 engine, in development since 2011, was unveiled in March 2017. It is one of the leading candidates to be used on the United Launch Alliance Vulcan launch vehicle which will replace the Atlas V.

​The reliable and relatively cheap RD-180, designed and manufactured by NPO Energomash, is used to propel US Atlas V launch vehicles into space.

RD-180 - Sputnik International
'The Best Around': No One Has Ever Outperformed Russia’s RD-180 Rocket Engines
The United States has used the reliable and relatively cheap RD-180, designed and manufactured by NPO Energomash, since 2000. In 2014, US lawmakers imposed limits on future RD-180 purchases, passing a law that required the US to phase out the Russian-made engines in favor of domestically produced next-generation rocket propulsion systems.

However, in December 2015, the US Congress passed a budget that includes a provision allowing the country to continue buying the Russian RD-180 rocket engines.

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