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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Aerospace Giant Energomash Flying High With U.S. Partner

The state-owned company Energomash is Russia's leading designer and manufacturer of liquid-fueled rocket engines, which placed into orbit all Soviet space vehicles, beginning with the world's first man-made satellite and the first manned spacecraft and continuing with launches to the Mir space station.

Its engines also power the Proton launcher, used for putting satellites into orbit, and the giant Energiya, which lifted the Buran space shuttle, a program now closed down.

Situated in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, Energomash is a typical giant of the Soviet military-industrial complex.

It employs 7,000 people and includes a central design bureau along with manufacturing and testing facilities in Samara, Omsk, Perm and St. Petersburg.

The company makes a wide range of liquid-oxygen and kerosene-fueled engines, including the RD-170, the world's most powerful liquid-fueled rocket engine, which is designed to be recovered after launch and used for 10 missions before overhaul.

Energomash was a pioneer in the space business. "Our engines are based on a real Klondike of know-how," said Boris Katorgin, an Energomash director.

Energomash dates back to 1929 when Valentin Glushko, creator of Russia's first liquid-fueled rocket engine, put together a group for such development at Leningrad's Dynamic Gas Laboratory.

In 1934, the group moved to Moscow and was reorganized to become an experimental-design bureau. According to Katorgin, the company has designed and produced 53 types of rocket engine along with derived versions.

At one time, all this meant a lot. Before the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Energomash could rely on a steady growth in state orders, mostly military. But in February 1992, orders almost "zeroed out," Katorgin said, in particular as a result of the Buran program's demise.

In 1995, the Defense Ministry placed no orders at all, while the Russian Space Agency cut its demand for RD-170 engines from 20 a year to just three.

In addition, Energomash has had to endure its own kind of brain drain, with a lot of highly skilled workers, designers and engineers leaving the company. Katorgin said that since 1992 the company has lost 25 percent of its staff. According to Felix Yevmenenko, Chief of Energomash's security, the company's leading specialists receive monthly salaries of around 700,000 rubles ($152).

But, by the standards of the beleaguered Russian aerospace industry, the company is far from collapse.

"In 1995, we didn't take a ruble or a cent in credits from anyone but we survived," Katorgin said, adding that the state itself owes Energomash more than 10 billion rubles.

The reason for the relatively stable situation is not difficult to trace.

Reliable and relatively cheap, Energomash engines have, ironically, become attractive to U.S. rocket manufacturers seeking to improve the capacities of their launchers at minimum cost in the face of severe cutbacks in the American space budget.

In 1992, Energomash set up a partnership with Pratt & Whitney, a division of the U.S. United Technologies conglomerate, to put forward the RD-180 engine, a development of the RD-170, in two tenders aimed at modernizing the existing Atlas and Titan-4 launchers.

Another joint project calls for the use of the RD-120 in developing a reusable booster rocket called the X-34.

The RD-180 project calls for joint development of the engine at Energomash and the sale of its license for production in the United States, whereas the RD-120 is planned to be produced in Russia.

"This is all very promising, and if the programs go through, it should be worth several billions of dollars in the forseeable future -- which won't go just anywhere, but right into Russia," said Katorgin.

"We believe that Russian engines are ideal candidates," said Karl Krapek, president of Pratt &Whitney, Energomash's partner in the project. "Russian engines have the highest reliability, efficiency and the least cost."

In addition to Energomash's RD-180, another Russian manufacturer, Dvigateli NK, and its U.S. partner firm Aerojet, has entered the Russian NK-33 engine, a venerable design developed for the failed N1 moon rocket. The competition's results are set to be announced this month.

According to Igor Bryanov, aerospace expert with the Infomost consultancy, Russia has some unique achievements in liquid-fuel technology. But the choice of Russian engines as candidate suppliers for the U.S. programs is stipulated for largely economic reasons.

"It just happened that Americans were mostly involved in solid-fuel technology but fell behind their main competitors in liquid-fuel engines," he said in an interview with The Moscow Times. "Of course, the Americans have their own technology and can modernize existing engines or create new ones themselves. It is just the question of time and money."

Bryanov said that, although the Russian kerosene and liquid-oxygen technology is less sophisticated than the liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen burning engines used, for instance, in the Saturn 5-Apollo program, it is less expensive and more suitable for the present purpose -- namely to help the Americans make deeper inroads into the international satellite launcher market presently dominated by the European Ariane. The French-led consortium is in the process of introducing a new, bigger launcher called the Ariane 5, which will have the capability of launching as many as three satellites at one go -- and at lower cost than the current Ariane 4.

Experts say that the use of Russian engines on existing and future U.S rockets will save several billion dollars on R&D, whereas development of new liquid-fuel engines for the heavy-lift Titan alone will cost around $1 billion and take five years.

Modernization of Rocketdyne's existing MA-5 design would cost around $300 million.

"No wonder that the Americans turn to Russian engines," said Boris Rybak, spokesman for Aerojet on the Russian market. "All other alternatives could not be realized under a limited budget."

According to Katorgin, Russian engines will not be sold in the United States at dumping prices, but even if prices were similar to those for existing American prototypes, Russian engines would be competitive.

"The Americans have to make up for lost time, and there are only two ways to do this," Katorgin said. "Either to make a brand-new start themselves, which will require many years and a lot of money, or to utilize the experience of those who have gone ahead. The second path is going to be the shortest and cheapest."

Julian Cooper, an expert on Russia's military-industrial complex at the University of Birmingham in Britain, pointed out in his report "Conversion of Military Industry in the Former USSR," that Energomash's cooperation with Pratt & Whitney is one of the most successful examples of a working relationship between a Russian military-industrial venture and a large Western company.

However, despite general government approval for Energomash to sell its engines beyond Russian borders, some groups in the Russian leadership concerned about preserving state and military secrets are trying to block this and similar ventures.

Viktor Glukhikh, head of the State Committee on Defense Industries, declared that granting the Americans a production license for the RD-180 inflicts irreparable damage to Russia's military capacity.

But Katorgin dismisses all such arguments. "We do everything in full compliance with the law. Every step is carefully checked," he said.

Like other military enterprises, Energomash has tried its hand at conversion.

The company's test facilities for liquid-fueled engines have found some use for a range of industrial products. The company also possesses state-of-the-art technologies for hard brazing at high temperature, vacuum-compression furnaces for fabrication of combustion chambers and techniques for welding heat-resistant steels. Energomash equipment is used in diagnostics and quality control in atomic, thermal and hydroelectric power stations, in naval and aero-engines and automotive engines.

The company also manufactures a range of food-related machinery, including cream separators, loaf-molding machines for small bakeries, and pneumatic valves for remote-controlled systems governing the flow of milk and cleaning solutions at dairies.

There are automatic gas burners for use in bread and confectionery ovens, heat generators, dryers, steamers and boilers.

Other lines are car parts, children's sleds, and blenders. Laser technology for civilian application and medical equipment is also planned.

But this long list does not add up to much.

Exact figures for the share of civilian non-space production are not available but, according to Katorgin, "the share is extremely small."

He says that Energomash's main field of operations will remain in the rocket-engine business.

"We know best how to do it and it will be stupid to change the profile even if at present situation it is not extremely profitable," Katorgin said. "Even if we lose the American contracts we will survive as a aerospace producer as we are a part of Russian state-supported space program."

From this point of view Energomash continues to be fortunate. Russia continues to launch satellites as well as cosmonauts and supplies capsules to the Mir space station.

Indeed, Russia will launch itself this year into the Western commercial launcher market via its Proton rocket, whose reliability and low prices have much to do with its simple and tested Energomash rocket motors.

There will be 10 such commercial launches in 1996, Interfax reported, some part of more than $1 billion in launch contracts garnered by the Lockheed-Khrunichev-Energiya joint venture, in which the U.S. firm acts as a marketing agent for the Proton launches.

If Lockheed Martin goes ahead with Energomash motors for upgrading the Atlas rocket, it will tighten cooperation with the Russian space industry and introduce more rationality to the current arrangement, where Lockheed Martin markets Russian rockets that to some extent compete with the ones it makes itself.

As for Energomash, it would find itself in the enviable position of supplying two launcher market competitors at the same time.