WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force is beginning to weigh options for developing a more capable and affordable upper-stage engine for the Atlas 5 and Delta 4 rockets the service uses to launch most national security payloads.
The Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center in Los Angeles is giving industry until Nov. 9 to submit ideas for building a next-generation upper-stage engine to replace by 2017 the two versions of the RL-10 engine Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne builds for the Atlas 5 and Delta 4. A formal request for information the Air Force posted Sept. 27 on the Federal Business Opportunities website has garnered the attention of Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne and its rival Aerojet, the other main U.S. producer of liquid-fueled rocket engines.
“We certainly have been advocating the need to go to a next-generation engine, not because we believe the RL-10 is necessarily a bad engine — it has a tremendous demonstrated reliability and has flown more than 500 times — but it’s based on technology that was formed in the late ’50s and early ’60s,” said Steve Bouley, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne’s vice president for launch vehicles and hypersonic systems.
“We see an advantage in making an investment now to go to a next-generation engine and leverage the ability to have the same kind of reliability and performance as a minimum and reduce the cost, improve the manufacturability and leverage the history of the RL-10,” he said.