A year later, NASA announced the results of the work of the commission investigating the accident. However, preliminary conclusions were made immediately a year ago. The cause of the disaster was declared a malfunction in the engine of the first stage - AJ-26, which is a modification of the Soviet NK-33. Why was it necessary to dig a year in the burning wreckage? In order to finally find out exactly what caused these problems: the actual engine or its refinement by AstroJet.
Immediately after the accident, Orbital Science announced that it was suspending AJ-26’s participation in the Antares project. At the end of December, it became known that for subsequent start-ups a contract was signed with Energomash for the supply of X-Rum 60 engines to RD-181 engines (primary delivery of 20 engines and 2 options for 20 pieces). And this is despite the rather tough anti-advertising campaign launched by the American press to our engines. To understand these intricacies, it is useful to start from the beginning.
References informs that Aerojet is one of three American companies producing rocket engines and the only one that produces both liquid and solid fuel engines. This is probably what determined her participation in the Taurus-II project (as the Antares project was called before the 2011 of the year).
However, despite its producer status, Aerojet itself did not produce anything. And she bought in Russia the NK-33 engines stored in warehouses, intended for our lunar program that was not implemented in the USSR. After equipping the engine with modern electronics, checking for compatibility with American rocket fuel and making a number of changes to the original design turned out to be AJ-26.
Why didn't Aerojet create its own engine? Buy and redo the finished Soviet was a) faster; b) easier; c) cheaper. In addition, the Americans, not without annoyance, admit that their own developers, even after 40 years, could not create a competitor in terms of the “engine mass / generated traction” ratio. As a result, instead of spending billions of dollars and years of time, Aerojet bought 47 NK-33 engines at the price of 1 million dollars apiece. And Orbital Science, thanks to Russian engines and Aerojet, was able to win a NASA tender for cargo delivery to the ISS. 20 t eight flights for 1,9 billion dollars. Yes, of course, there is still Cygnus, there is a launch vehicle and a lot of other expenses. However, let's not forget that all this had a chance to rise into the sky only thanks to Soviet designers: “We have been around this scheme for decades and did not know how to implement it. Because its development required a tremendous amount of money, ”this is how the chief designer of SNTK im. Kuznetsova Valery Danilchenko.
But back to our stories. It should be noted that already at this stage (modernization) all claims to Russian designers and manufacturers at least half lose their foundation. Yes, experts from the Samara NTK named after M. Gorkiy took part in finishing the NK-33 to AJ-26. Kuznetsova. However, firstly, not only they, the work was carried out jointly with Aerojet specialists. Secondly, the production of 1 launch vehicle stages was carried out by specialists of Yuzhmash.
Dnepropetrovsk "Yuzhmash" became for Orbital Science the second gift of fate after AJ-26: the salary of Ukrainian rocket scientists is not much different from the salary of workers of Dnepropetrovsk McDonald's. As a result, at the end of 2008, the contract was concluded, and already in October, the first PH was shipped to the customer. As follows from the report, the task of the Ukrainian side was to develop and control the manufacture of tanks for fuel, high-pressure tanks, valves, sensors, fuel supply systems for pipes, wires and other related equipment. That is, in simple terms, to tie the engine and the PH fuel system together.
Tied, but not too qualitatively. As a result, the final culprit recognized turbopump. It was he who exploded first, damaging the engine.
In principle, the Americans got it right a year ago. And despite the anti-advertising campaign mentioned, some Russian engines were simply replaced by others, but not requiring rework. However, the completion of the commission gives us the opportunity to speculate about the correct conclusions again
1. If the United States is going to take part in the space program in the coming years, they cannot escape from cooperation with the Russian space industry. From their side, it will be naive to believe that they will be able to forge a long-term partnership in such a complex area with a limited entity that is rapidly losing the remnants of sovereignty, economic and human potential. The Ukrainian rocket industry has developed the safety margin inherited by the republic from the USSR. The United States, of course, can continue to cooperate with Yuzhmash, but the further, the more it will resemble the applied art of the Palestinian rocket engineers.
2. The period of easy money in space according to the formula “we buy Soviet engines, we modernize, we get a NASA tender, we go to the Canaries” is also coming to an end. Landmark - the launch of the mass production of the Angara launch vehicle in 2020 year.