Some 50 years ago it would have been unheard of for Russian engines to power US spacecraft, but it’s the reality now. RT has traveled to the Russian plant that produces some of the most powerful engines in the world.
From Russia across the Atlantic – and ultimately toward space: the rocket engines used for historic missions like the first spacecraft visit to Pluto are known as RD-180s. They are used to power America’s Atlas boosters, which send satellites into orbit.
“The international RD-180 program is an example of the bilateral cooperation between Russia’s Energomash and the American missile building plant,” said Sergey Pitulko, Energomash company deputy CEO.
“This cooperation is quite beneficial for everyone, especially because for now the production of RD-180s in the US is not set in place,” he added.
The deal to supply the RD-180s was signed in 1996. Since then, Russia has sent more than 40 engines to America out of the 101 agreed.
As well as NASA’s Pluto mission, they also powered the recent bombing of the moon to test for water there.
From an assembly workshop to the airport, Russia’s rocket engines travel like VIPs. The journey to America happens around four times a year. But while today the technology link with the US is common enough, few could have imagined it some 50 years ago.
That’s when America's Atlas rocket began its life – the era which saw the arms race at its height. It was originally designed as an intercontinental ballistic missile to deter and possibly strike the Soviet Union.
Today, though, the main target is simply mutual interests between Russia and the US.
“It enables Russia’s space industry to get extra income,” explained Yury Karash, a Moscow space club member.
“This industry, as you know, is not currently provided for financially very well,” he said.
“For America, these are good engines at a reasonable price. From the political point of view it shows how successfully Russia and the USA can work together. It contributes to the development of mutual trust and understanding between the two countries.”
Over 75 years Russia’s Energomash has designed more than 50 different types of rocket engines. Among them are those that put the first artificial satellite into orbit as well as sent the first human into space.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the work of Energomash was practically abandoned. But the multi-million dollar RD-180 project has revived the space giant, taking Russian technologies to the world – and out of it.