[FPSPACE] Re: NK-33
Robert G Kennedy III
Mon, 13 Nov 2000 14:44:53 -0400
Raoul Lannoy wrote:
>but do now-I hope Bart, Tristan and Koen are seeing it too). Ingeneers from
>Aerojet went to visit a warehouse loaded with NK33 engines (20some) and were
>totally baffled by what they saw. They sent one of them to Sacramento for
>testing in 1995 (NKP2) and it was successful: Soviets had a 20 year old
>technology not yet available in the USA. That technology is now used for the
>Atlas rocket (RD180).
They brought at least one engine over, earlier, I think.
On 05Oct94, the gang from Aerojet came by the Space Subcommittee on Capitol
Hill (when I was working for Space) to talk about their new joint venture.
They also brought along another gang of Russian senior engineers from NPO
"Trud" in Samara, whom they were working with, including one very old and
very senior engineer, Valentin Semyonovich Anisimov. His title was
"Honoured Designer of the Russian Federation" (probably same title with
"USSR" before that). Boy, I wish we gave our engineers recognition like
Being the only Russian-speaking staffer on the Science committee at that
time, I was asked to participate. It was just a lucky bonus that I happened
to be a space history nut as well.
In fact, looking over my diary for that day, I see that I was pulled out of
Commercial Spaceport briefing taking place at 3 p.m. in Space's hearing
room, #2317. (apologies to Jim Spellman, et al.) We used the Science
Committee's big hearing room, Rayburn 2318.
As I recall, Aerojet said they had access to about 40 engines, not 20.
Their plan was to disassemble/test a few of them, but install most of them
directly on American launchers. They figured by the time they burned
through the inventory, they'd had learned enough to manufacture copies of
the engines under license. As I recall, they mentioned the figure of $1
million for each existing engine. I didn't hear any figures about the
The most fascinating part of the meeting was when Valentin Semyonovich
described the failures of the N-1, how:
- if one engine in the base ring failed, its opposite number would shut down;
- they could lose as many as six engines during boost, and still make it to
- how the cycling/update frequency of the control system turned out to be
unfortunately close to the natural frequency about the yaw axis.
He felt the main culprit, which doomed the program no matter what, was bad
He had worked directly for Korolev at some point, and talked about what it
was like to work for him. Everybody sat and listened, pretty much
spellbound. I mean, this was a guy who had been there, done that, and got
the T-shirt. It was cool to hop in occasionally and provide technical
idioms for the translator. Russians always bring along these drop-dead
gorgeous translators. As the group departed, one of the Russian officials
going out the door shook his had and said to another one (in Russian) "All
these Americans, speaking Russian now." Very hard for me to keep a straight
face. Then I debriefed the other staffers who remained.
I always felt Aerojet and the Russkiis had a credible business plan with
lots of potential that played to both their strengths. Later on, I heard
that Aerojet ran into all kinds of roadblocks, some from State and some
from DoD. In my opinion, the stated concerns about "technology transfer"
were total red herrings, (the tech was coming our way, fer Chrissake!) and
really what was going on was that other players in the military industrial
complex (guess who?) were trying to torpedo a competing project.
Robert Kennedy, PE