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Replacing Russian-made rocket engines is not easy
by Staff Writers
Moscow (Voice of Russia) May 05, 2014

The review of US Air Force dependence on the Russian-made RD-180 engines, used in American Atlas V rockets, has not yielded any solutions.

The Pentagon is hard-pressed to find a replacement for the Russian-made rocket engines it buys, a senior official has revealed. The import of the engines has for now been banned via a court order lobbied by SpaceX and based on sanctions imposed on Russia during the Ukrainian crisis, Stars and Stripes reports. The private space exploration company SpaceX says it has a cheaper way to launch satellites, and was suing the US Air Force for the chance to prove it.

US billionaire Elon Musk's SpaceX on Wednesday won a court order temporarily blocking the Air Force from buying the Russian rocket engines on the grounds of a "potential violation" of US-imposed sanctions. The corporation says that by purchasing the engines, the Air Force is funneling money to Russia's military industrial complex, which could be sponsoring some sanctioned Russian figures.

However, the Pentagon has no "great solution" to reduce its dependence on a Russian-made engine that powers the rocket used to launch U.S. military satellites, the Defense Department's top weapons buyer said.

Earlier ordered by US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the review of US Air Force dependence on the Russian-made RD-180 engines, used in American Atlas V rockets, has not yielded any solutions.

"We don't have a great solution. We haven't made any decisions yet," Frank Kendall, the US undersecretary of defense for acquisition, was quoted by Bloomberg.

United Launch Alliance LLC, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp. (LMT) and Boeing Co. (BA), has been purchasing RD-180 rocket engines from joint Russian-American enterprise RD-Amross LLC since 1997. The engines in question have been produced at a plant of NPO Energomash near Moscow, and over 40 of them were delivered during 1997-2007 period.

The US has used RD-180 engines to power its Atlas III and Atlas V rockets, which mostly deliver commercial or military communications satellites, as well as reconnaissance and navigation satellites.

So far, the replacement options outlined by the Air Force for Hagel have reportedly included building RD-180s in the US under an existing license from the Russian maker, or using different Delta-class rockets altogether. The U.S. also could accelerate the certification of new companies to launch satellites that don't use the Russian engine, he said.

Each of the options has its drawbacks, such as the need to harness the time and know-how for setting up engine production in the US, or the limited production capability for another class of rockets, according to Kendall.

There has not, however, been any indication that Russia could stop the production of engines already agreed upon under the latest contract, nor did the US freeze their delivery.

SpaceX won a court temporarily blocking the Air Force from buying the Russian rocket engines and Judge Susan Braden's preliminary injunction doesn't cover existing contracts or payments. Braden said her decision was reached after considering public interest, national defense and security concerns.

Bloomberg learned that five more RD-180 engines are still due to be delivered this year. The further deliveries could come under question at least temporarily, as, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann, the United Launch Alliance has already stockpiled a two-year supply of the engines.

The United Launch Alliance has stockpiled about a two-year supply of the engines based on the current planned satellite launch schedule, Pentagon spokeswoman Maureen Schumann said in an e-mail in March.

The joint venture is also taking delivery of five more engines this year, ULA spokeswoman Jessica Rye said in an e-mailed statement.

So, while the US demands the rest of the world turn its economic back on Russia, it appears they are discovering the world is considerably more inter-dependent than it thought, columnist Tyler Durden writes.

Source: Voice of Russia


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