Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Recycling Rockets

Recycling Rockets: "COLORADO SPRINGS - United Launch Alliance (ULA) may be due for a break in the price of its upper-stage rocket engines, thanks for a little recycling by rocket-engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. PWR has a plan to convert excess RL-10 engines that are unlikely ever to be used on the Delta IV launch vehicle into a configuration that will fly on the Atlas V.

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Steven A. Bouley, vice president for launch vehicle and hypersonic systems, said the company is preparing to modify RL-10B2 variants into a new type dubbed the RL-10C1 that will fit the Atlas V. Currently the big Atlas uses the RL-10A4 variant. Among changes to be made in the B2 engines is removing two sections of the three-section composite nozzle so it will fit on top of the Atlas V first stage.

There will also be changes in electronics, including a shift to a single upper-stage igniter for both variants. “They have a large inventory of RL-10B2s right now,” Bouley told reporters during the National Space Symposium here. “We would have to build more RL-10A4s from scratch to continue to feed what is needed for the Atlas V line.”

The imbalance in upper stage engine inventory resulted from a Boeing decision to buy more than 70 RL-10B engines for the Delta IV, in the mistaken belief that a commercial market for the big Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle would materialize with a proliferation of low Earth orbit communications constellations and other factors.

Bouley said the changeover would have the short term benefit of saving ULA – which now operates the Delta IV – the loss on the unneeded engines, while giving then a less expensive source of engines for the Atlas V. The engine-maker also will get a chance to streamline its production facilities by reducing the number of types in production. Under current plans, PWR will build five more RL-10A4 engines as “insurance to give us time to qualify the RL-10C and have it ready and available when it’s needed,” Bouley said.

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