Panel Warns RD-180 Plan Too Risky

An independent panel of acquisition experts has warned that the Defense Department’s plan to end its reliance on Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines is too risky and too expensive, the Wall Street Journal reported Monday. The group said slowing down the schedule for replacement would likely save taxpayers billions and would also be less risky, the WSJ reported. The plan would involve launching some satellites using Delta IV rockets instead of Atlas V rockets; however, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James has said doing so would cost the Air Force anywhere from $1.5 billion to $5 billion. James also told Congress that the congressionally mandated 2019 deadline for finding a replacement for the RD-180 “is pretty aggressive” and she is not sure it is possible. Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Frank Kendall in February said DOD’s view is that “until we can find a replacement, we need to continue to rely on the RD-180 as the most cost-effective way for us to get some of our payloads, at least, into space.” The Air Force has awarded contracts to Aerojet Rocketdyne, United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK, and SpaceX to enter into public-private partnerships to develop a prototype to replace the RD-180. (See also: The Plan to End Reliance on Russian Rocket Engines.) (Read the Wall Street Journal story; subscription needed.)