Graham Warwick/ATLANTA

AEROJET PLANS TO test-fire a Russian-produced NK-33 rocket engine at its Sacramento, California, plant on or about 4 October. Two engines were received in August under an agreement between Aerojet and NK Engines of Samara, Russia.

The NK-33 is the baseline engine for Lockheed Martin's entry in the US Air Force's Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) competition.

The 1,510kN (340,000lb)-thrust liquid-oxygen/kerosene NK-33 was developed to power the Soviet Union's ill-fated N-1 lunar booster. More than 450 engines were produced and flight-qualified in Russia, of which 100 remain in storage. Aerojet says that 72 have been inspected and declared flight-worthy.

The US company's plan is to modify these NK-33s for qualification testing and so have flight engines available as early as 1998. While modification and qualification is under way, Aerojet would gear up to manufacture the engines in the USA, as the AJ26-NK33A.

In addition to the EELV programme, Aerojet has proposed the NK-33 to power 12 Atlas launch vehicles for which Lockheed Martin requires engines. The NK-33 is being offering in competition with the Rocketdyne MA-5 engine now used in the Atlas. Aerojet says that the $4 million NK-33 offers a much higher thrust-to-weight ratio and is throttle-able, while the MA-5 is not.

The US company plans six firing tests at Sacramento, to confirm the results of acceptance tests conducted at Samara, in the early 1970s. If the tests are successful, Aerojet will begin modification of the engines to meet US launch-vehicle needs. Changes required include the installation of a nozzle gimbal and replacement of electrical wiring and valve actuators.

Source: Flight International