The RD-180 rocket engine is powering the first stage of Lockheed Martin’s Atlas III and Atlas V rockets.

RD-180 Rocket Engine

The RD-180 is a two thrust chamber derivative of the RD-170 engine which powers the Zenit first stage. The RD-180 was developed in Russia and is marketed jointly by NPO Energomash and Pratt & Whitney. Under the guidelines of the US Air Force EELV contract, Pratt & Whitney will produce RD-180’s in West Palm Beach, Florida for the government Atlas V launches.

It provides environmentally clean operation while featuring an integrated propulsion package with hydraulics for control valve actuation and thrust vector gimbaling; pneumatics for valve actuation and system purging and a thrust frame to distribute loads.

The RD-180 was developed in a relatively short period of time and was scaled from the RD-170, which makes up 80% of the RD-180 parts. In addition to the Atlas III and Atlas V launch vehicles, the RD-180 has been proposed to power the Russian Angara launch vehicle.

Packing nearly one million pounds of thrust in a total propulsion system, the RD-180 delivers a 10 percent performance increase over current operational U.S. booster engines in 2003. This reusable kerosene (hydrocarbon) fueled engine has been flight proven on the Lockheed Martin Atlas III and V.


  • Staged-combustion cycle engine
  • Liquid oxygen/kerosene propellants
  • 2 thrust chambers (gimbal +/-8 degrees)
  • 1 oxygen-rich preburner
  • High-pressure turbopump assembly: 2-stage fuel pump,  single-stage oxygen pump, single turbine
  • Hypergolic ignition
  • Self-contained hydraulic system powered with kerosene from fuel pump
  • Minimal interfaces with launch pad and vehicle
  • 70% RD-170 parts

Characteristics (100% power)

Diameter: 124 in. (3.15m)
Length: 140 in. (3.55m)
Dry weight: 12,081 lb (5,480kg)
Nominal thrust: (sea level) 860,200 lb, (vacuum)    933,400 lb
Specific impulse (sea level): 311.3 sec
Vacuum specific impulse: 337.8 sec
Nozzle area ratio: 36.4:1
Chamber pressure: 3,722 psia
Mixture ratio: 2.72
Throttle range: 47-100%

RD-180 vs Merlin

RD-180 is used as a single piece engine whereas the Merlin 1D is used as cluster to provide a large amount of thrust. You need to cluster about 4.5 engines Merlin 1D rocket engines to produce the same thrust as 1 RD-180 engine. Both engines use Kerosene (RP-1) and liquid oxygen.


–  Russia in Space:

– Energiya-Buran: The Soviet Space Shuttle by Bart Hendrickx
from Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAmazon.caWalmart.com

– Modern Engineering for Design of Liquid-Propellant Rocket Engines (Progress in Astronautics & Aeronautics, Vol 147
from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

– Rocket Exhaust Plume Phenomenology by Frederick S. Simmons
from Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk

– Amateur Rocket Motor Construction: A Complete Guide To The Construction Of Homemade Solid Fuel Rocket Motors
from Amazon.com

RD-180 Links

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