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Air Force Requests Info For Replacement Atlas 5 Engine 108

Posted by timothy
from the send-picture-of-rocket dept.
schwit1 (797399) writes The U.S. Air Force on Thursday issued a request for information from industry for the replacement of the Russian-made engines used by ULA's Atlas 5 rocket: "Companies are being asked to respond by Sept. 19 to 35 questions. Among them: "What solution would you recommend to replace the capability currently provided by the RD-180 engine?" Air Force officials have told Congress they only have a broad idea of how to replace the RD-180. Estimates of the investment in money and time necessary to field an American-built alternative vary widely. Congress, meanwhile, is preparing bills that would fund a full-scale engine development program starting next year; the White House is advocating a more deliberate approach that begins with an examination of applicable technologies. In the request for information, the Air Force says it is open to a variety of options including an RD-180 facsimile, a new design, and alternative configurations featuring multiple engines, and even a brand new rocket. The Air Force is also trying to decide on the best acquisition approach. Options include a traditional acquisition or a shared investment as part of a public-private partnership. [emphasis mine]"

The Atlas 5 is built by Lockheed Martin. This is really their problem, not the Air Force or ULA. In addition, the Air Force has other options, both from Boeing's Delta rocket family as well as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket.
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Air Force Requests Info For Replacement Atlas 5 Engine

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  • by michaelmalak (91262) <michael@michaelmalak.com> on Saturday August 23, 2014 @10:36PM (#47740029) Homepage
    Perhaps the five most important words in TFA, omitted by TFS.
    • by evilviper (135110)

      The relevant phrase is an old journalism chestnut:

        "Don't bury the lead!"

      http://laurabrowncommunication... [laurabrown...ations.com]

  • by fish waffle (179067) on Saturday August 23, 2014 @11:05PM (#47740129)
    Seriously, spend your war budget on something useful instead of international e-peni.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday August 23, 2014 @11:06PM (#47740131)

    Let's just copy the RD180. I doubt it has any patent ecumberances.

    • TFA states that they are considering it.

      It also states that we were supposed to set up our own production line quite some time ago, but never did so as it was cheaper to continue buying them directly.

    • by donscarletti (569232) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @01:00AM (#47740481)

      Let's just copy the RD180. I doubt it has any patent ecumberances.

      They've already licensed the damn thing for domestic production from the beginning and had a good decade where they could have set up their own factory and had the Russians come in and willingly ensure they are being produced correctly and fix any detail not conveyed properly on the plans. In fact, I believe that the RD-180 is more of a work-for-hire specifically commissioned for Lockheed's requirements.

      Now everything is sour and steps to remedy it look political, rather than just a way of giving jobs for American blue collar labour, which is how it would have appeared before.

      The RD-180 is a good engine that provides staged combustion performance and efficiency at similar cost to American gas generator cycle engines. The only problems with it is that it was really hard to design, which is irrelevant when you have the plans anyway. It would be a shame for NIH syndrome to screw up America's capability to launch satellites.

    • by ausoleil (322752)

      ULA / GenCorp (who acquired Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne in 2013) has the right to produce the RD-180 domestically as part of its partnership with NPO Energomash.

      Since they have the plans, access to the current production line and certainly the ability to make the engine, patent encumbrances would not be an issue.

      The problem is cost -- the RD-180 is very labor intensive to make, and it would also require tooling, testing, certification and undoubtedly test flights to bring the US-made version to equivalen

  • Companies are being asked to respond by Sept. 19 to 35 questions. Among them: “What solution would you recommend to replace the capability currently provided by the RD-180 engine?”

    Apparently submitter knows a lot more than the Air Force does when it comes to booster rockets.

  • Ten bucks say that SpaceX could have Raptor operational before the ULA manages to draft their new engine. (Maybe I just feel like being sarcastic right now. Maybe I don't, though...)
    • They do. but they're not an authorized contractor. and the paper work takes years.
      welcome to stupid government.

      for military contractors, the paper works is EXPENSIVE!, last I heard, space-X wasn't interested in paying that freight. Odd that Russian engines are OK.
      Perhaps Caesar was correct, though forced into a situation he despised, he offered a choice, accept or die. The current bureaucratic morass is evidence that the rules must change. There isn't time for the bureaucrats to muddle.
      A sad stat
      • Re:Raptor? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by stoploss (2842505) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @12:05AM (#47740297)

        You know that the bureaucrats eventually "won" in Rome, right?

        Rome collapsed under the weight of its complacent, entrenched bureaucracy. After Marcus Aurelius, every subsequent Caesar had less ability to change the trajectory of the Empire thanks to the political realities imposed by the bureaucracy. They had to act within the constraints of the previously established bureaucracies. Did you know that eventually Roman bureaucrats granted themselves military ranks? Bureaucrats also chose the last of the Western Emperors.

        Bureaucracy is a cancer.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          True. On the other hand, it provided stability during times of some of the most ridiculous people to ever live.

        • Re:Raptor? (Score:4, Informative)

          by clovis (4684) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @01:26AM (#47740553)

          You know that the bureaucrats eventually "won" in Rome, right?

          Rome collapsed under the weight of its complacent, entrenched bureaucracy. After Marcus Aurelius, every subsequent Caesar had less ability to change the trajectory of the Empire thanks to the political realities imposed by the bureaucracy. They had to act within the constraints of the previously established bureaucracies. Did you know that eventually Roman bureaucrats granted themselves military ranks? Bureaucrats also chose the last of the Western Emperors.

          Bureaucracy is a cancer.

          Attributing the fall of the Roman empire to a single cause is just plain wrong.

          • Re:Raptor? (Score:5, Interesting)

            by stoploss (2842505) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @03:16AM (#47740753)

            I'm not attributing it to a single cause anymore than one can attribute death by cancer to any specific individual cell.

            The very establishment of the Principate held the seeds of its own demise, but that's like saying the ultimate cause of death is being born. The legal fictions chosen in order to establish the Augustan Principate allowed Augustus to have a fig leaf to cover his dictatorial powers while still styling himself "mere" Princeps ("First Citizen") had unintended consequences. He technically did NOT consolidate all the power into a single office; he technically didnt even abolish the traditional system of appointments. The legal fiction was that all these mechanisms were still in place, it's just that Augustus held all the top offices. Imagine if we had a President who was also Chief Justice, Speaker of the House, President of the Senate, etc, and everyone else in Congress and the Supreme Court was afraid to cross him.

            You can see that executing responsibilities of all those offices is a lot of work. The last Caesar to bust his ass trying to discharge the responsibilities of all those offices was Marcus Aurelius. Commodus couldn't be fucking bothered, as he wanted to play games. However, instead of allowing that office to revert to the pre-principate form he started layering on bureaucracy. To revert to the Republican system would be to release power, and technically he was still in control of what the bureaucracy did.

            Bureaucracies never die without killing their host as well. Bureaucrats love their sinecures, power, and income and will fight to keep them. Therefore, delegating power turned into a ratchet effect.

            Over the centuries, the ratchet clicked many times and layers upon layers of bureaucracy formed. This is a heavy toll on an economy, and taxes rose to match. Of course, the Romans never really came up with a good taxation system (c.f. tax farming).

            Reforms under Severus, Constantine, Diocletian, et al, were adjustments within a fixed range of trajectory. As the Western Empire got closer to the end, reforms could only adjust the trajectory in a small way... much like you can't cut out cancer that has metastasized to vital organs.

            All this contributed massively to undermine the ability of the Empire to adapt as well as diminishing the value to the individual of being part of the Roman "Commonwealth". If you're a taxpayer who is funding this massive bureaucracy and you can't perceive all this expense is to your net benefit, how hard are you going to fight to keep the barbarians away?

            If a patient with metastatic cancer dies of pneumonia, what killed him?

            • by clovis (4684)

              I'm not attributing it to a single cause anymore than one can attribute death by cancer to any specific individual cell.

              And then you continue attributing it to the single cause of bureaucracy.

        • by TubeSteak (669689)

          Bureaucracy is a cancer.

          You forgot the part of your argument where you compare today's generally non-partisan bureaucracy with that of the Romans who gave themselves military rank.

          And I'm not sure how you expect to have a government (or even a large corporation) without bureaucrats.
          What's your alternative?

        • We still let bureaucrats choose today's emperors. We are living Greco-Roman antiquity, but with faster chariots, and less horse crap in the streets.

          • No, there's still plenty of horse shit being tossed around. Probably more.

            It might be metaphorical horse shit, but it's still there.

        • Are you suggesting that slowly transitioning a totalitarian state run by a single dictator into some semblance of a democracy is comparable to a cancer?

          I was with you all along the way until you concluded that the elimination of a dictator was a bad outcome. I would say the Bureaucrats won as did Rome when freed from the tyranny of the Caesars.

          • by stoploss (2842505)

            Totalitarianism was developed in the 20th century. Please don't conflate that with the autocracy of the emperors, and, for that matter, don't conflate bureaucracy and democracy.

            That said, the real tragedy was the demise of the Roman Republic, which had separation of powers with strong checks and balances, designed specifically to prevent an autocracy. That's why Augustus' legal fictions that established the Principate were so deviously clever. In fact, that fiction was kept up until the fourth century (if m

        • by ultranova (717540)

          After Marcus Aurelius, every subsequent Caesar had less ability to change the trajectory of the Empire thanks to the political realities imposed by the bureaucracy. They had to act within the constraints of the previously established bureaucracies.

          You're almost speaking as if the rulers having a check on their power was a bad thing. And of all the rulers you could had chosen, you chose the infamously nasty and insane Roman emperors.

          Is your post supposed to be some kind of parody?

          • by stoploss (2842505)

            You're almost speaking as if the rulers having a check on their power was a bad thing.

            That may have been how it seemed, but that's not what I was trying to communicate. The real solution was to return to the Republic, which was stable, had separation of powers, strong checks and balances, and so on.

            When I was talking about constraints, I meant things like how eventually new Caesars had to pay the Praetorian Guard multiple years worth of salary upon taking power because previous Caesars had done so. As for the bureaucracy, the ratchet clicked (and the layers and expense grew) because the empe

        • et tu Brute.

          Caesar never got to finish his reforms.
          Brutus, and other supporters of the bureaucracy, had him murdered.

          Bureaucracy is a killer.
      • Re:Raptor? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Sarten-X (1102295) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @12:33AM (#47740397) Homepage

        They do. but they're not an authorized contractor. and the paper work takes years.
        welcome to stupid government.

        I've done government work. The bulk of required paperwork is a full accounting of absolutely everything being billed to the government. Every minute worked by every employee must be logged, and every expense must be justified. It's all an attempt to reduce the chance of defrauding the government, and indirectly the taxpayers.

        Yes, current contractors charge a lot, but despite outside opinion, they can justify every expense. Sure, an efficiency-loving Congress could cut out the paperwork, but that opens the door for any company with a promise of a product to overcharge. At least they could scam the government efficiently.

        • by jd (1658)

          They often do. Before, they always did. Absolutely standard practice.

          It would be better if the government wouldn't buy anything, even from vendors of vendors, without full accounting. If you can game the system with shells, you might as well not have a system.

          Having said that, there's a lot of creative billing because of the specifics of how the paperwork is done, and there's a lot of creative bidding where costs are deliberately deflated or ignored (all for the very best of reasons, I'm sure) with the upsh

      • by PPH (736903)

        for military contractors, the paper works is EXPENSIVE!, last I heard, space-X wasn't interested in paying that freight.

        Good. That whole system was set up as a protection racket run by the likes of Boeing, Lockheed and its ilk.

        Pentagon wants to buy some technology by a small outfit? Fine. Order it on line, just like everyone else does. Pentagon says, "Boo hoo! We can't do it that way. You have to fill out this truckload of paper. Or sell through one of the big contractors." (Who are just office building full of paper pushers set up to re-brand Chinese technology and pass it on as their own with a big markup.) Small firm say

        • Damn, now I want to buy a rocket capable of putting several tons into orbit via PayPal.

          What, I can't find that on Amazon? No free two-day shipping available via Prime?

  • Lockheed decided to go with a Russian Engine. There seems so be a problem with that now.
    Time to make bad choices matter!
    It Lockheed can't deliver a launch vehicle, there should be a penalty. Sadly in these contracts there is no penalty. But they don't get paid, and Space X and Boeing can pick up the slack.
    It's time defense contractors payed for failure to deliver
    This won't bankrupt Lockheed, but it better hurt, hurt bad
    A year on year loss due to stupid management would send a good message. We'll le
    • Re:Fuck Lockheed (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 24, 2014 @12:08AM (#47740315)

      Sorry about posting AC. Technically, Pratt and Whitney was supposed to (and is licensed to) produce the RD-180 in the US. But it seems that P&W continued to source from Russia instead of tooling up and building locally.

      Here's a wiki link (not to be confused with wiki-leaks)

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RD_Amross

      I hope that helps frame the question better.

      • Well known and understood. But P&W deserves to burn for this failure.
        A a manager of mine used to say "failure to plan, is not my problem".
        The general contractor is at fault for all failures, except it seems with the US military. That needs to change.
        These companies exist in a notion of the world that they can't fail. They need to have a few negative quarters!
        Perhaps even fail, though with some of the infrastructure that isn't possible.
        Lockheed made their bet. They can eat it. Congress is too s
        • by Anonymous Coward

          I thought Lockheed just supplied the atlas rockets. The government is the one choking off the external engine supplies. Obama needs to pay for this, out of his own pocket! His disrespect for the great leader Putin is costing us all money.

      • by jd (1658)

        Nobody is going to increase their expenses voluntarily. Especially on something like a rocket, where local disasters are very public and very expensive. And doubly not in a situation where increasing the cost of the contract would be a political nightmare likely solved by the contract moving to someone else buying from Russia.

        When money talks, nobody asks questions.

        • Nobody is going to increase their expenses voluntarily.

          If your contract has a stipulated profit margin, you can increase your gross profit by increasing expenses; so yes it does happen. Defense contractors throw parties when DoD changes the specs letting them increases expenses.

      • by PPH (736903)

        Pratt and Whitney was supposed to (and is licensed to) produce the RD-180 in the US.

        Contract language to that effect? If so, they failed to like up to the terms.

    • by jd (1658)

      It's what you get in a market economy. Sorry, but outsourcing is cheaper and the cheaper product will win over the better product 99 times out of 100. Especially when it comes to government, where they're legally obliged to go with the cheapest bid.

      That's just the way the country is set up. Anyone with a brain would tell you that outsourcing even across State lines, never mind international boundaries, carries political risk. The nation decided, rightly or wrongly, that saving money was more important. If t

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They went with a Russian engine as opposed to having to spend 100's of millions if not billions developing their own as Russia are the only country that produce an engine of the required size.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 24, 2014 @04:52AM (#47740897)

      The "Atlas V" is not really an "Atlas" at all nor should it be numbered "V" and the whole thing is an anti-American crony-capitalist play. Let me explain:

      The "Atlas" rockets which gained fame both as ballistic missiles and as the launch vehicle that put John Glenn in orbit were designed and built by Americans at the Convair plan in Kearny Mesa California (northern portion of greater San Diego). The modern "Atlas" is NOT a direct descendant (EVERYTHING about it is different except for the fuel and LOX) and is NOT designed and built by the men who designed and built the real Atlas (who were left behind along with the Kearny Mesa facilities). It's made by different peopple at a different LockMart facility and with Russian Engines (CLEARLY no ties to the American "Atlas") and was only named "Atlas V" as a marketing gimmick (The next production Atlas WAS to be the "IV" but Boeing was rolling-out the "Delta IV" as a competitor at the time so the LockMart folks bumped the number to "V" as a marketing play).

      The "anti-American" part is BOTH because American rocket engine designers and builders were tossed-aside in favors of Russians to save money AND because it put a critical bit of US Government capability in a spot of vulnerability to the VERY SAME RUSSIA that LockMart uses as a big threat that makes the American Taxpayer NEED the uber-expensive over-budget, behind-schedule, under-performing, super-turkey F-35 jet... which LockMart makes, (of course).

      The "crony" part is because Boeing and LockMart were allowed to merge their launch business into ULA (creating a total monopoly on US launch vehicles) to "save the tax payers money" but instead with a monpoly costs have skyrocketed (as though ANYBODY couldn't see THAT coming!). As part of the current "cozy" relationship between the federal government and the guys it pays to lauch payloads, the government shovels about a BILLION dollars per year for "assured access to space"..... NOT for any launches, which it buys on top of this fee. Now that SpaceX and Orbital are operating new launch vehicles (which are NOT part of the profitable ULA monopoly) and Russia is becoming more of a problem. the supply of engines for Faux-Atlas are threatened nobody at NASA or the USAF or LockMart are talking about "assured access" and the billions payed-out by taxpayers for it. A new engine is needed for Faux-Atlas and, like bad Wall St bankers, the so-called "commercial" entity does not want to spend the money to bail itself out of the spot that it put itself into; it is demanding a bailout and its "good friends" in government (some of whom, no-doubt, want to move from government careers to second careers in industry) are eager to bail it out (in the interests of "national security", of course). What commercial company wouldn't love to get billions of dollars to buy new components so it could better compete againsts competitors who are not getting that free money? If the taxpayer is forced to buy LockMart a new engine for its Faux-Atlas, then to keep things fair, the taxpayers should also buy new engines for Boeing, SpaceX, Orbital, and Blue Origin (and why not Virgin Galactic and StratoLaunch too while we're at it?>>)

      LockMart should be left alone (just as the Wall St Bankers should have been) and when the supply of RD-180s runs out and they are unable to fly Faux-Atlas (and thereby unable to fulfull the launch contracts they locked-in with the US Government (the subject of the SpaceX lawsuit)), they should be driven into bankruptcy (just as the Wall St Bankers should have been) and their executives jailed for fraud (as the Wall St Bankers should have been). There was a STENCH to that Air Force "block buy" launch contract that was put in place just before SpaceX could get "certified" for USAF launches (by a process Lockmart never had to undergo) and it stinks MORE now that the feds are looking to buy LockMart an engine to help it fulfill that contract. The destruction of the giant defense contractor (like the collapse of the big Wall St Banks)

      • by hackertourist (2202674) <hackertouristNO@SPAMxmsnet.nl> on Sunday August 24, 2014 @11:41AM (#47741977)

        Bullshit.

        The Atlas V was designed at a time when the Soviet Union was crumbling. Using Russian engines was an American ploy to ensure world stability by keeping Russian rocket designers gainfully employed instead of leaving them fend for themselves, building God knows what for the highest bidder.

        Did that work? Well, I haven't seen much progess in rocket technology by people crazy enough to start wars.

        Has this tactic outlived its usefulness? Yes, in view of recent developments, it's time for a new arrangement. Oh, look, that's just what they're doing.

        • Well, I haven't seen much progess in rocket technology by people crazy enough to start wars.

          North Korea and Iran come to mind.

      • by PPH (736903)

        they should be driven into bankruptcy

        Won't happen. If it even comes close, Congress and the Pentagon will bail them out by allowing them to buy Boeing. Just like McDonnell Douglas did when they lost the JSF contract.

    • To be fair, the fact that it's a problem now isn't Lockheed Martin's fault, it's the US government's fault for denying access to the engine.

      I say handle it like COTS. Offer a contract for X launches at Y price. If Lockheed wants to continue flying the Atlas they'll find a solution that matches Y price. If another vendor such as SpaceX can delivery Y price then problem solved. If both deliver, all the better.

      However it's important to keep in mind that we already have 1 launch vehicle that is capable

  • I thought that the original deal to use the RD-180 also came with blueprints and specs so that we could build the same engine on our own. Why aren't we pursuing this?

    • because it will take years to actually build one.
      because it's rocket science, blue prints are only 1/3 of the way there.
      • by poodlediagram (1944244) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @02:51AM (#47740707)
        That's right: the RD-180 is based on the four chamber RD-170 which began development in the early 1970's.

        These Soviet engines rocket were more efficient than their US counterparts. The reason is that they used an oxgen-rich preburner, as opposed to the US engines (including the space shuttle's) which were fuel rich.

        Thus there was a flow of superheated oxygen passing through the preburner and then through the turbine to power the turbo pumps. It turned out that no existing steel could withstand this and so the engineers spent years finding a steel alloy which could. The US never did so, and went fuel-rich instead.

        To clone this would take a lot of R&D into devloping these steels and learing to machine them. Although in the 1980's so-called 'superalloys' were developed which are not steel (nickel-cobalt for example) and could do the job. These are used in the extreme conditions of modern jet engines and also have to withstand superheated oxygen.

        This is just one example of the problems involved in building and testing a cloned engine: it would take many years to get it into production. It's possible this information request is just to shake the Russians up a bit.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      There are problems with just copying the RD-180.

      1) The license for manufacturing the RD-180 expires around 2022.
      2) The RD-180 is based on 70s technology. The Air Force would prefer current technology. The Air Force has been working on a low level at developing technology for a staged combustion hydrocarbon engine.
      3) Any new engine will require building a new factory, training new employees, and supply chain.

      I would argue that the Atlas V is unneeded, and this is an opportunity for it die, but I am not in Co

  • It'll cost $(cost of ESA equiv + import license + 10%) for a basic launcher.

    For anything more complex or powerful, let me check my Kerbel designs to see what I have.

  • by Issarlk (1429361) on Sunday August 24, 2014 @05:19AM (#47740939)
    Is obviously a cluster of at least five different nozzles, all built in different facillities spread over several representatives' districts.
  • Previous reliance on U.S. technology made the cost of liquid-fueled rocket engines, made mainly by Rocketdyne, ruinously expensive. They required a highly-skilled workforce to build them. The Soviets, on the other hand, were known for designing and building things that didn't require a machinist with PhD.-level knowledge to make. Witness the MiG-25 with nickel-steel leading edges in the wings, that though weighty, did the job as well as the lightweight U.S. zirconioum oxide ceramic equivalents in our jet fi

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