Despite of sanctions and US Congress debates, Russian-made engines are still preferred.
Russia has delivered four RD-181 engines to the US Orbital Sciences Corporation for its Antares rocket under a $1bn contract, signed early 2015 despite early several rounds of Western-imposed sanctions and hot debates in Congress over US dependency on Russia for national security space launches. The first Antares rocket equipped with RD-181 engine will be launched in on March 1, 2016 from Cape Canaveral. Meanwhile until recently the US used the other engines for Antares, which are based on the Soviet NK-33 modified by American manufacturer Aerojet. From 2016, they are changed to imported Russian-made engines. The first four Antares launch attempts were successful. During the fifth launch, last October, the rocket powered by AJ-26 engines failed catastrophically, exploding and falling back onto its launch pad at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia.
The Russian company has cooperated with the US since 1990, delivering RD-180 engines for Atlas rockets. Until now, 65 space launches has been made using Russian engines.
Orbital announced that they decided to use the RD-181 engines because they offered “the best combination of schedule availability, technical performance and cost parameters as compared to other possible options.” Russian rocket engines have been a hot topic for US lawmakers who has voiced concerns about US dependency on Russia for space exploration.