The U.S. currently uses the Russian made RD-180 rocket engine to power intelligence and military satellite launches through contractor United Launch Alliance.
WASHINGTON, D.C. (Talk Media News) – Senate Armed Services chairman John McCain and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy announced Wednesday that they will introduce legislation Thursday to undo language in the 2016 federal spending bill that eased a congressional restriction on the use of Russian made rocket engines.
The Russian RD-180 rocket engines is used in U.S. military and intelligence satellite launches. As McCain (R-Ariz.) put it in statement, the “legislation is vital to ensuring the United States does not depend on Vladimir Putin’s regime for assured access to space.”
McCain said during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing Wednesday that the legislation will “end our dependence on Russian rocket engines and stop subsidizing Vladimir Putin and his gang of corrupt cronies.”
Along with economic sanctions against Russia, Congress banned the use of the rocket engine for military use after the nation annexed Crimea in early 2014, but has since eased the ban weary that it would limit competition in the field of satellite launch.
The company United Launch Alliance, a shared effort between Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, uses the engine in their Atlas 5 rocket. Their only strong competitor in the field is SpaceX, which manufactures the Falcon 9.
Testifying before the SASC, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said that while the defense department is looking to move away from the use of the RD-180, the process is more complicated than it appears. James recommended that the U.S. create a stockpile of the engine until a U.S.-made option is tested. She said that under the 2016 defense policy bill, the Pentagon is limited in the research it can do into alternate options.
“An engine alone will not get us to space,” James said. “It needs to be integrated with a rocket, it needs to be tested, it needs to be certified. And to get all of that done, to have a launch capability, will be longer than 2019.”
Earlier this month the Air Force announced contracts for both Space X and Orbital ATK to develop a prototype to replace the Russian engine.