Ukraine to test components of a powerful Indian rocket engine

The Yuzhmash production plant in Ukraine prepares to begin a series of firings testing critical parts of a large rocket engine intended for India's next-generation heavy launcher. Although it was built entirely in India, the prospective engine was originally designed in Ukraine under designation RD-810.

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A version of the RD-810 engine circa 2013 designed to gimble around one axis.

The RD-810 engine at a glance:

Liquid oxygen
Thrust at sea level
194.2 tons
Thrust in vacuum
211.3 tons
Specific impulse at sea level
303.6 seconds
Specific impulse in vacuum
330.3 seconds
Engine mass
2,350*/2,500** kilograms
Number of burns in flight
Propellant component ratio
Combustion chamber pressure
192.7 kilograms per square centimeter
Gimbal angle
in one or two axis
Burn time
~140 seconds
4,015 millimeters
Nozzle diameter
1,450 millimeters

*With one-axis gimbal mechanism; ** for two-axis gimbal mechanism

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Developing RD-810

The RD-810 was developed at KB Yuzhnoe in today's city of Dnipro, Ukraine, as an equivalent of the Russian RD-191 engine, but using a more conservative engineering approach. Like the RD-191, this one-chamber engine with a thrust of around 200 tons, was intended for the first stage of a new-generation space launcher, however it was designed to operate at a lower, and thus safer, internal pressure than that accepted in its Russian counterpart.

The propulsion division at KB Yuzhnoe was able to take on the project of such a scale and complexity thanks to its most recent experience with the engines for the second stage of the Zenit rocket, including the RD-120 and RD-8.

The RD-810 belongs to the so-called staged combustion cycle engines, which first ignite their propellant mix inside a special gas generator (also known as pre-burner). The resulting hot gas is used to drive the engine's turbine and then it is directed into the main combustion chamber.

The RD-810 was designed for a single firing during the operation of a typical first stage, starting on the ground and lasting slightly more than two minutes. The engine could operate in two modes: burning at full thrust for 135 seconds and then switching to a lower thrust for the final six seconds before the separation of the first stage. (809)

In the course of its development, several versions of the RD-810 were designed, with the main difference being its gimbal mechanism with either one- or two-axis steering.

Foreign roles for RD-810

Over the years, various roles were proposed for RD-810, including replacing the Russian RD-171 on the Ukrainian-built Zenit rocket and propelling Ukraine's new-generation Mayak launcher. A four-engine cluster, dubbed RD-810M, was designed to fit into the aft section of a potential space booster with a diameter 3.9 meters, matching the caliber of the Zenit rocket. Each RD-810 was expected to gimbal up to six degrees around one axis, allowing the four-engine cluster to fully steer the rocket.

Because none of the indigenous programs could be adequately funded, Ukraine sought to bring the RD-810 design to the international market. Along with several other Ukrainian designs, the RD-810 was proposed for the American super-heavy rocket developed under the Space Launch System, SLS, program. However, despite qualifying RD-810 as in high degree of readiness, American space officials did not seriously consider Ukrainian engines for the SLS project.

Indian version

In 2005, Ukraine agreed to provide India with designs for the RD-810 engine and, on Nov. 20, 2006, the Indian Space Research Organization, ISRO, awarded a contract to KB Yuzhnoe for a project code-named Jasmine, which officially started the development of the RD-810. In India, the RD-810-based engine was dubbed SCE-200, which stood for "semi-cryogenic," indicating the use of kerosene fuel, which can be stored at regular temperatures, and liquid oxygen, which requires cryogenic conditions to stay in liquid form. The "200" in the designation denoted its thrust of 200 tons.

ISRO planned to install the SCE-200 engine on the modified core stage of the GSLV Mark 3 rocket replacing the older propulsion system. It would boost the payload capacity of the rocket to the geostationary transfer orbit from four to six tons. Later, four similar engines could propel a new-generation rocket, which could deliver up to 10 tons to the same orbit without the help of strap-on boosters.

In addition to assisting with the design of the engine, KB Yuzhnoe also advised ISRO on the development of the prospective launch vehicle itself.

RD-810 for Antares

In September 2013, KB Yuzhnoe proposed the RD-810 engine for the US Antares rocket developed at Orbital ATK. The company promised to begin deliveries of the engine in 5.5 years at a price tug of $500 million. However, Orbital chose the Russian RD-181 engine for the project.

As of 2014, KB Yuzhnoe had produced the full set of design documentation required for the production and testing of the RD-810 engine. (809) According to industry sources, India then re-issued the blueprints for the engine according to its own standards and, possibly, introduced some modifications.

In the meantime, KB Yuzhnoe decided to stop further development of the RD-810 engine inside Ukraine, focusing instead its limited resources on the more powerful RD-815 design, which could potentially be promising on the US market.

Testing RD-810

Aerial view of the propulsion testing facility at the Yuzhmash plant in Dnipro, Ukraine.

In 2017, Indian specialists returned to Ukraine to test fire the actual hardware, which had been built in India within the Jasmine project. According to industry sources, the Ukrainian Yuzhmash factory was contracted to test, not the entire engine, but its critical components, including its gas generator and a turbopump, which had all been manufactured in India. If the firings, apparently planned to be completed by 2019, validated the quality of the Indian manufacturing methods, the fully assembled engine, including the combustion chamber and the nozzle, would be tested at the yet-to-be completed bench facility at Mahendragiri, India.

(To be continued)

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The article and photography by Anatoly Zak; Last update: July 16, 2020

Page editor: Alain Chabot; Last edit: January 10, 2018

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The proposed architecture of the SLS rocket propelled by Ukrainian-built boosters and RD-810 and RD-815 engines. Credit: KB Yuzhnoe


The four-engine cluster known as RD-810M could produce 844 tons of thrust. Credit: KB Yuzhnoe


Depiction of the RD-810 engine circa 2014. Credit: KB Yuzhnoe


RD-810-based SCE-200 engine could eventually propel the core stage of India's GSLV Mark-3 rocket. Click to enlarge. Copyright © 2008 Anatoly Zak