Prudent Planners

Air Force Space Command boss Gen. William Shelton said he does not expect any changes to the current launch schedule despite uncertainty surrounding the supply of the Russian-made RD-180 engine, which powers United Launch Alliance rockets. The US has a stockpile of 15 of the Russian heavy-lift engines, and ULA is expecting delivery of two more next month, followed by another three in October, Shelton told reporters at the Pentagon on Tuesday. “If there is an interruption of the supply, either the new ones or the ones we have in stock already, or should someone say you can’t use those RD-180 engines for [national security space] missions, we’ve looked at all those options and what it would mean to our manifest,” said Shelton. The financial impact, he said, would be between $1.5 billion and $5 billion, depending on the scenario. The range really comes down to storage cost and whether a more expensive booster would be required. For example, a Delta IV typically is more expensive to launch than an Atlas V. It’s also “very expensive to store a satellite longer than anticipated and we know there is probably at least a year delay, in some cases, and max of a four-year delay, depending on what booster it would need to go on and so forth,” added Shelton. Not to mention the “standing army” of “engineering talent” the US would have to keep on hand just “to be ready for launch.”