WASHINGTON – The debate in Congress over how much longer the Pentagon should be able to use Russian-made rocket engines to launch military satellites will escalate next week in the Senate.
Lawmakers may be forced to choose favorites from among competing aerospace contractors while juggling questions about national security.
At issue is the RD-180 Russia-made engine that United Launch Alliance (ULA) uses on its Atlas V rocket to deliver sensitive military equipment to space. Congress, prompted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the rise of SpaceX as a viable ULA competitor, has decided the Defense Department should wean itself off the Russian engines as soon as possible.
But ULA – and the Pentagon — say they need time to develop a U.S.-made engine. That means the company must buy more engines than the law currently allows in order to maintain an active launch schedule until a replacement is ready.
The question of how many more Russian engines ULA should be allowed to purchase will be a flashpoint as the Senate takes up a fiscal 2017 defense policy bill next week.