Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Engines That Came In from the Cold

Click the arrow to watch the documentary. Video source: Matthew Travis YouTube channel.

The Orbital Sciences Antares rocket that exploded Tuesday uses engines originally built in the 1970s by the Soviet Union's Kuznetsov Design Bureau. Originally intended for the N-1 moon rocket, the NK-33 engines were stored in a warehouse after the program was cancelled.

In the mid-1990s, thirty-six of the engines were sold to Aerojet General. Aerojet refurbished the engines, renamed them AJ26-62, and sold them to Orbital for the Antares.

In 2001, U.K. TV Channel 4 produced a documentary titled The Engines That Came In from the Cold about how the Soviet engines came to be in American hands. This is six years before Orbital won a NASA commercial cargo contract.

Pundits are blaming the refurbished NK-33s for Tuesday's explosion, but so far no public evidence has been released to support that conclusion. An AJ-26 failed May 22 on a NASA Stennis test stand. All the engines are test-fired at Stennis before installation on the Antares. If the AJ-26 is responsible for Tuesday's failure, it already had been test-fired at Stennis.

Click the arrow to watch a March 29, 2014 AJ-26 test. Video source: NASA Stennis YouTube channel.

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