Thursday, December 10, 2015

US Lawmakers Clash Over Russian RD-180 Rocket Engines

A Colorado lawmaker says the U.S. Air Force’s first competitive launch procurement in a decade was “prejudiced” against incumbent United Launch Alliance, which has effectively ceded the work to archrival SpaceX.

In a Nov. 25 news release, Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.), a member of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, which oversees military space, asked the Air Force to review and explain its bidding requirements for the 2018 launch of a GPS 3 navigation satellite.

The announcement is the latest salvo in jockeying among lawmakers over the Defense Department’s newly competitive satellite launching program.

On Nov. 19, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who chairs the Senate Armed Service Committee, asked the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), to reject the idea of inserting a provision into a must-pass federal spending bill that would give the U.S. military access to a controversial Russian rocket engine until an alternative becomes available.

That provision, if approved, would effectively neutralize the ban on the use of Russian engines for national security launches imposed by Congress following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine in 2014. Denver-based ULA, whose workhorse Atlas 5 rocket is powered by the Russian-built RD-180 engine, has said the ban will leave it unable to compete for future U.S. military business against SpaceX of Hawthorne, California.


The clash has worsened and McCain is considering a wider ban on the RD-180.

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