Easing Restrictions on Russian Engines

House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee leaders and Air Force officials agreed March 17 that the congressionally imposed limit on using Russian-built RD-180 rocket engines could create a multi-year gap in the nation’s ability to put heavier national security payloads into orbit. United Launch Alliance, which uses the Russian engine in its Atlas V heavy lift launch vehicle, also supported removing the restrictions. Congress restricted future use of the RD-180 and demanded development of a US-produced replacement last year after Russia invaded Crimea and a Russian official threatened to stop selling the engine. But, ULA CEO Salvatore Bruno said it has bought more and urged the panel to allow their use. Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) said the currently available RD-180s could run out in 2018 and ULA does not expect its new engine to be available until 2022-23. Rogers, Air Force Space Command boss Gen. John Hyten, and Air Force acquisition executive William LaPlante all questioned SpaceX’s claim that its new Falcon Heavy engine could be certified by 2018. Air Force officials said the government should share the estimated $1 billion cost to develop the new engine and Hyten said he would release a request for proposals for that project next month. (LaPlante prepared testimony) (Hyten prepared testimony) (Bruno prepared testimony)