Lockheed Martin Astronautics successfully test-fired a Russian RD-180 rocket engine for 10s with a prototype Atlas IIIA booster stage at NASA's Marshall facility at Huntsville, Alabama, on 29 July.

Lockheed Martin Astronautics will use the RD-180, designed by Russia's NPO Energomash, to power its new Atlas III rockets and its family of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles (EELVs).

Two further test firings of more than 70s duration are planned to take place during the next two months. The RD-180 is also undergoing further testing at the Energomash plant at Khimky, near Moscow.

Nine development engines have already been test fired for more than 10,000s.

The tests at Marshall have been designed to validate the performance of the engine and other elements of the rocket, including the avionics, propellant tanks and feedlines, electronics and hydraulic systems.

The firings are being conducted in the Advanced Engine Test Facility, which has previously been used to test Space Shuttle main engines and Saturn V rockets.

The RD-180 develops 3,827kN (860,000lb) of thrust, compared to 1,668kN for a Space Shuttle main powerplant. The US Air Force will soon award a dual EELV contract to Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

The EELV will eventually replace the existing Delta, Atlas and Titan space launch vehicles used to launch a range of government and commercial payloads.

The first launch of the Atlas III is planned for early 1999, carrying a Loral communications satellite, and the first EELV launch is scheduled to take place in 2001.

Source: Flight International