Perhaps there is no such person on Earth who does not know the name of Yuri Gagarin, who made the first flight into space on the Vostok satellite. But hardly many have heard and remember the names of those who prepared, brought this event closer, made discoveries, designed and moved forward the rocket and space industry.
One of them is the creator of the world’s best liquid-propellant rocket engines (LPRE), a world-renowned scientist, a designer in the field of energy, the author of several hundred inventions, scientific papers, Academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences Boris Katorgin. With his participation, for the first time in the world, an extremely closed circuit of a powerful rocket engine was developed. It was Katorgin’s most important invention – the development of a combustion chamber with anti-pulsation baffles – that ensured stable combustion of these two components at high pressures. The invention was embodied in the engines of the Khimki NPO Energomash named after academician V.P. Glushko (formerly OKB-456). They are considered national pride.
Today Boris Ivanovich works as an advisor to the general director of the enterprise, which became his family and to whom he gave more than half of his life – more than 50 years. The engines, which turned the world history of astronautics, were used to launch the spacecraft piloted by Gagarin into orbit (RD-107, RD-108). They sent into space the first artificial Earth satellite, the first Lunokhod-1 apparatus. Today, every 4th rocket in the world flies on Russian engines. Until now, these liquid-propellant rocket engines, based on developments of almost half a century ago, are considered innovative. No one in the world has yet been able to recreate an engine with similar performance. Its modification RD-180 is still being bought by the Americans. Despite any sanctions.
How long will we be able to hold our positions and what is happening in the rocket and space industry today? Legendary designer Boris Katorgin on the eve of the space jubilee answered the questions of MK.
– Today, Elon Musk’s successes are trumpeted at every corner. Boris Ivanovich, do you think we really have something to learn from him?
– Entrepreneur Elon Musk has shown himself to be a talented organizer. He was able to negotiate with the “moneybags”, forced them to fork out. A lot of money is poured into his projects by the state, private companies, his initiatives are financed by NASA. Musk has no obstacles to the realization of his projects. And the fact that he took many concepts ready-made is a fact. Yes, Musk has something flying there, but he did not use any fundamentally new ideas. The theory of creating rocket technology has been known for a very long time. An oxidizing fuel was thrown into the combustion chamber, burned, and gas was emitted through a jet nozzle at a high speed, which formed a jet thrust. That’s all.
– But Elon Musk’s Space X managed to implement the idea of reentry rocket stages on Falcon 9. This is an achievement, isn’t it?
– Yes, this is an achievement. By the way, the state corporation Roscosmos last year announced a competition for the creation of a medium-class launch vehicle with a reversible first stage. The very idea of rescuing rocket stages has existed for a long time. In the 90s, we developed a number of options for how we should keep the step. Our motors have already been designed to be reusable. On the Energia rocket on the side steps, devices were even developed to rescue them. But the proper implementation did not work out due to the notorious lack of funding. At that time, we could barely scrape together the money for salaries. But Musk was the first to realize this idea. Although I’m sure our people are more talented! But, unfortunately, we live in an era of wild capitalism. All the riches are taken into the pockets.
– But we also have oligarchs. Why not contact them today ?!
– Well, what are you! Forget about our oligarchs! My opinion is that a swindler sits on a swindler and drives him around with a swindler. Did any of them invest in the creation of something cosmically global, very important for the development of our country ?! No!
– And we will never have our own Elon Musk, and those who wish will not fly into space on a ship of a Russian private company?
– I think – never, and if this happens, it will not be soon. If a figure like Musk appears in Russia today, hundreds of leeches will immediately cling to him. The Russian “Mask” will begin to knock out funds, and the pieces will “suck” them. They will come up with a reason for this and let the base down.
– But do we have objects of pride in the rocket and space industry?
– For now, alas, we are only proud of past successes. Our engines, in comparison with those made by Elon Musk, are the best in the world in terms of energy capabilities. We have a special technology. We have learned how to make very efficient, powerful combustion chambers. For example, in the RD-171 engine, each chamber creates a thrust of about 200 tons. We have achieved a sustainable combustion process. To make this work, we applied some tricky features. Roughly speaking, if the temperature in the center of the chamber is 3.5 thousand degrees, then the temperature of the wall itself should not exceed, for example, 700 degrees Celsius. And the creation of such a camera that would be able to work at such temperatures: to cool down, and then to be tested several dozen times without removing from the stands is a triumph of Russian technologies! It was the chief designer of space systems, academician Valentin Petrovich Glushko, who persistently promoted such ideas and concepts. It was very difficult, because many specialists, including even some members of the Russian Academy of Sciences, did not believe that such a thing could be constructed. In the RD-170, RD-171 engines (they are similar) pressures are created: in the chamber – 250 atmospheres, in the generator – almost 600 atmospheres. At the same time, 2.5 tons of fuel (oxygen and kerosene) are burned per second and a thrust of about 800 tons develops (near the ground – 740 tons, in space – 806 tons). But, in spite of everything, this engine was nevertheless created! Already on its basis, the RD-180, purchased by the Americans for the Atlas launch vehicle, and the RD-191, used for the Angara missile, were developed. When I was still the CEO, we tested it 4 times in a row at the stand. But the Americans chose a different concept for building engines. They didn’t raise the parameters high. When we go, for example, from Moscow to St. Petersburg by car, the speed can be different. When you drive 120 km / h, you get there faster. But at a speed of 70 km / h you will also get to St. Petersburg. So it is with missiles. We made engines of high parameters. Nevertheless, both of them fly. We have a heavy-class missile “Angara”. She flies and will fly. Unfortunately, so far it is irregular and infrequent. There are still enough problems. But you can be proud of her too.
If there is adequate funding for the space industry, everything will work out.
– As you know, the sanctions war between the United States and Russia is now sharply intensifying. But the Americans still continue to buy RD-180 engines from us, the creator of which you are, despite the sanctions?
– Yes it is. Until now, the American corporation Lockheed Martin buys and uses our RD-180, successful launches are being carried out. They have already purchased a hundred of them. The RD-180 engine has no analogues in the world. In the technologies of high-thrust oxygen-kerosene rocket engines, we are still ahead.
– But it was you then, in the 90s, who were the initiators of entering the foreign market?
– Yes, I asked the country’s leadership to go international. I turned to Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin. After all, the situation at Energomash was critical: internal orders were practically stopped, but people had to pay salaries. Due to the deal for the supply of 101 engines to the Americans, our enterprise withstood a difficult time for the country. We even received a State Prize.
– How long will the International Space Station be in operation? There is information that not everything is in order with its technical condition. Has she exhausted her resource?
– No, she will still work, probably for 7-9 years. Cracks appeared there, scanty, they are sealed with a special sealant. There is nothing wrong.
– Over the past ten years, situations have often happened when Roskosmos lost satellites, carried out unsuccessful launches. How can this be explained?
– Of course, mistakes. And there are a lot of reasons for these errors: there are technical ones, somewhere the human factor played a role, for example, the program was written incorrectly. The commission finds out the reasons, examining the flights. Let me just say that the situation with accidents is better now than a few years ago. Apparently, they made the right conclusions.
– Most recently, Roskosmos has once again postponed the launch of the Kondor-FKA radar satellites. Why?
– Because not everything is brought “to the ringing”, not everything is ready, rechecked. The general designer does not allow the flight. I’m sure the space industry is easy to clean up. This requires only political will. And we have a lot of smart heads, even among young people.
– You have worked with students for more than a dozen years, taught at the Moscow Aviation Institute. Are there any potential successors among them, continuers of your cause?
– Of course! For 30 years I was the head of the department at the Moscow Aviation Institute, for about 40 years I gave lectures concurrently. There are usually 25 people in a student group. So, as a rule, 5 of them study very well, try to delve into the topic. They quickly grasp the necessary, penetrate, understand. These five can already be entrusted with designing in the future. Another 8-10 people will definitely go into the profession. The rest are eager only to get a diploma and escape somewhere. This is the central composition today. But even those top 10-15 form potential. Now the technique is different, the principles of project development, their creation in metal are different. Young people are well versed in computer modeling.
– How long did it take you to create the RD-180?
– By modern standards, we made it pretty quickly. When creating, we focused on its prototype – RD-170. In 1996 we won the competition for its creation, and in May 2000 we already flew. There were many tests after production. The Americans paid well for this product of our highly intellectual labor. And I will even say more: our liquid-propellant rocket engines will be in demand for a very long time. Created decades ago, they were way ahead of their time. Until now, no alternative technology has appeared that would, with such reliability, economically lift heavy loads and put them into near-earth orbit. Only here they are unsuitable for flights to the stars, other galaxies. But this is a completely different story, and a topic for the next anniversary.