The US Explained The Purchase Of Russian Space Engines
Head of the United Launch Alliance (NASA contractor) Tory Bruno explained why Russian RD-180 engines have been used for launches of the Atlas family for many years. The President of ULA said this on Twitter, responding to a question from a subscriber.
"The US government asked us to buy them at the end of the cold war so that Russian rocket scientists would not end up in North Korea and Iran," he wrote.
The RD-180 engines were developed by NPO Energomash (Roscosmos enterprise) in the mid-1990s based on the Soviet RD-170, which was the most powerful rocket engine in the world and was used on the superheavy Energia launch vehicle. the RD-180s are exported to the United States, where they are used in launches of the Atlas family of missiles. The agreement to supply RD-180 engines to the Americans was concluded in 1997. According to Energomash, a total of 119 engines were sent to the States, while 89 flights were performed on Atlas missiles.
In 2014, RD-180s came under US sanctions — in April, the US Court of Federal claims banned United Launch Alliance from using these engines. ULA was prohibited from "making any purchases or payments with the NGO Energomash." However, in May of the same year, Washington lifted the ban. In 2016, the Congress tried to stop using the RD-180 from 2019, but due to the lack of analogs, it was not possible to stop purchasing Russian engines.
In April last year, Tory Bruno on the sidelines of the 35th space Symposium in Colorado Springs said that the quality of Russian RD-180 rocket engines is at a high level and the US has never had any issues with deliveries. Then he said that the stock of these engines in ULA warehouses covers the needs for about two years ahead.
At the same time, the President of the company found it difficult to answer the question of whether it will buy RD-180 after 2022 (the United States Department of Defense insists that the purchase of Russian engines will stop this year). Until that time, as Bruno pointed out, 18 engines were allowed to be purchased for national security. The head of the consortium clarified that in 2022 it is necessary to stop purchasing, and it will be possible to use the engines in the future.