U.S. May Seek License for Russian Rocket Engines

Atlas V AV-026 OTV-2; LO2 tanking prior to launch

Even as President Barack Obama debates how to punish Russia for sending troops into Ukraine, the U.S. government is reviewing how it might obtain a license for domestic production of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engine, an official said.

The U.S. relies on the engines to launch military and spy satellites into space. United Launch Alliance LLC, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co., is the sole provider of medium- and heavy-lift rockets under a program called Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, or EELV. It uses the RD-180 as the main engine on its Atlas V boosters.

While the U.S. has enough of the engines to support launches for the next few years, officials are concerned that future supply could be in jeopardy because of rising tensions between the U.S. and Russia over the deployment of Russian troops and equipment into Crimea amid political and social unrest in southern Ukraine.

“The partnership we’ve had with Russia [for] that engine has been very important, I think, to both of us, but there are number of concerns the Air Force has and others have anytime we’re relying on such an important piece of equipment from vendors outside of the United States,” Air Force Undersecretary Eric Fanning said during a breakfast with reporters on Tuesday in Washington, D.C.

“It’s been a solid partnership for years now,” he added. “We have enough of those engines to support launches well into 2016 but are monitoring closely any suggestions that are taking place in the current bilateral situation that might impact our supply.”

While Russia hasn’t yet publicly threatened to cut off the supply of the RD-180 engines to the U.S., the scenario is one raised frequently by observers who advocate for more competition and suppliers in the military launch program.

“The Atlas V cannot assure access to space when it relies on President Putin’s permission to enter space,” Elon Musk, chief executive officer of start-up rocket-maker Space Exploration Technologies Corp., said during a hearing last week of the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

The company, known as SpaceX, is seeking certification from the Air Force to be able to compete launches in the EELV program. The service has delayed a solicitation for bids from companies to fly a future mission so SpaceX can have more time to become certified, Fanning said.

Also at issue is the expensive cost of launch. EELV is projected to cost $70 billion through 2030, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

On the RD-180, Fanning acknowledged the Air Force “would like to have a more varied supply to such a critical part of our launch — the engine. We’re exploring what that is and how much that would actually cost us, even if we had the license to start up a line to produce that engine in the United States.”

There’s a “business case analysis that’s being done on that right now,” he said.

About the Author

Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.
  • andy

    America… you are dumb sob…

    • andy

      This is how you created jobs in America…..buy russian helicopter with BILLIONS nad now Russian Rockets…..

  • andy

    Nasa and other defense companies are a joke….

  • andy

    yessss buy American…nothing are made here…

  • anonymous

    Would of been nice to still have space shuttles, but NASA did not get enough funding.

  • Bernard

    “The Atlas V cannot assure access to space when it relies on President Putin’s permission to enter space,” Elon Musk

    ^ We need to listen to this guy.

  • Dfens

    Back when NASA designed our rockets, we had the F1 engine on the Saturn V that could take 120,000 lbs to low earth orbit. Each one generated a million and a half pounds of thrust. Today we have to rent rides on ex-Soviet Union designed rockets to get an astronaut’s sorry ass off the ground, and we don’t have anyone outside of SpaceX that knows how to design a rocket engine in any size class.

    • WulfTheSaxon

      Eh, I think Aerojet Rocketdyne knows how to design engines… It’s just that they’re too conservative, and would rather wait around hoping that somebody will fund a new engine development program than self-fund like SpaceX does.

      Then there are XCOR and Blue Origin to think of.

    • Mat

      They were no were on near the level the RD-130 -180 ,these engines are like you straped a supercharger on your typical nasa engine decades ahead .

  • LPF

    I’m sorry , but is there something stopping the US from designing their own new rocket?

    • Dfens

      Yeah, billions and billions of US taxpayer’s dollars.

    • Yellow Devil

      Because we have to keep reinventing the rocket wheel each time. Oh and NASA got sidetrack by the newest shiny object, global warming, instead of you know the actual mission.

      • Chuy

        And for the focus on global warming, we can thank the self proclaimed inventor of the Internet, Al Gore, who, as Vice President to Slick Willy ( I Did Not Inhale/Have Sex with that woman) Clinton bought into the “man made climate change” BS being pushed by the Liberals and all other haters of a strong US economy and US oil companies. Gore stands to make billions from carbon tax and cap-and-trade environmentalist ” save the whales ” BS but none of that comes out in the Liberal controlled media. And an” inconvenient truth ” for Gore is that his 4000 square foot home in Tennessee has a huge carbon footprint. Yet he expects everyone else to drive smart cars and Priuses. Typical Liberal hypocrite !!!

    • mule

      In a word: Congress. They have taken over rocket design. The SLS heavy lift rocket which is currently being developed ensured that all the old shuttle districts could keep working. The only really exciting rocket design going on right now is at SpaceX.

      • Dfens

        Congress is better at it than that idiot Mike Griffin, the ex-NASA administrator. His pogo stick rocket was going to be ready about the time the space station’s useful life (if it could be said to have such a thing) was over. Then they were going to start on the heavy lift vehicle, after we’d paid the Russians for rides and built a rocket to nowhere.

    • tiger

      US kids want to be Johnny Football; not Rocket scientists. They take classes in beer pong & major in crap like art history to show up 3 times a week.

      • Dfens

        Hell, when I was a kid most of my heroes were engineers and scientists. Werner von Braun, Kelly Johnson, Mark Donohue, Albert Einstein. Hell, kids these days are lucky to know those names from a history book. The only important people these days are CEO’s and entertainers. I can tell you from experience that engineers are nothing but cogs in a machine today. You pull one out and put another in the empty hole and the machine keeps on turning. I had a manager who told me that to my face one day. Said he would have me replaced by a kid out of college the next day after I left. He replaced me, alright, and in an industry that values incompetence over innovation, I’m sure they’re all quite happy together right now.

    • Mat

      Lack of know how. You would need decades and bilions to gain know how needed .

      Russian and US rocket scientists chose to develop 2 different concepts 5 decades ago , the RD series are outside US know how as Nasa dropped the concept as to risky 50 years ago but concept so far outpreforms anything out there that it would be stupid to use that tech.

      • Space-X seems to be getting a good handle on it in shorter time and for less money.

  • frank

    Obama will do what Putin tells him too. At least he has since he entered office.

  • Lance

    This is sad, Obama almost wants to to start WW3 over this dumb Ukraine situation and wants to cripple Russia with sanctions. NOW he wants to be nice and kiss up to them for rocket motors that we shouldn’t need. The US should have our own rockets no we have to outsource to EU and Russia? That’s just sad.

    I guess they where right to talk of NASA as in old memory in Star Trek they saw the future, LOL.

  • Steven

    It is time that our critical needs (rockets, satellites, military planes, etc.) have parts MADE IN AMERICA ONLY. If we were cut off from China and Russia, I doubt if we could build our military aircraft, military satellites and launch vehicles with the single exception of SpaceX.

    Why do we put ourselves in a bind by relying on Dictatorships, Oligarchies and generally those who are not solid allies. Oh, and by they way, Obama has alienated our closest allies because they don’t believe we can be trusted to follow through on any commitment we make, for example “The Syrian Red Line”, halting Iran’s nuclear program (Obama will “settle” for a weak and ineffective agreement to get “Peace in Our Time – shades of Neville Chamberlain).

    NASA needs REAL MANNED MISSIONS REAL SOON (not 5 years-10 years away) to destinations beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO) that will actually prepare us for exploring, mining and colonizing the Moon, Asteroids and later Mars. If NASA had a sustained presence on the moon, I am sure commercial interests would soon follow. If NASA would thoroughly explore the moon and nearby asteroids (with BOTH men and probes), commercial interests are eager to follow very quickly to cash in on mining and manufacturing opportunities where abundant energy and abundant raw materials exist.

    • barney fife

      I would have to agree with you, but for one thing…..the reason we put our selfsinto a bind for defense and technology needs is because of our reliance on big business to run the show. In order to cut production,raise costs and maximize profits, they stage phony enviromental stage shows up in Washington (comes in handy when a deal for raw earth materials comes in from China far cheaper than what we could dig them up for in Wyoming or else where), create disasters by destroying our industrial base, and stage other phony shows by buying politicians to help further their cause.

    • Hunter76

      Steven,

      I am glad to see in your 3rd para that you are a proponent of wealth through government spending.

      • Dfens

        You’re pretty self-righteous for a person living in a country put on the map by a guy whose funding came from Queen Isabella of Spain.

        • blight_

          Without Columbus we’d still be dependent on the Abbasids to get spices from Indonesia and silk from China.

    • rtsy

      This “made in America” bull has got to end. The next big push into space is going to be a global one and insisting that each nation builds only its own equipment would be a disaster. It’ll take a few million tons of equipment launched into orbit to create the much vaunted space based economy. No one nation will be able to afford the R&D, construction, launch, and training costs that would be needed to access all of that abundant energy and raw materials.

      • Dfens

        Spoken like an international metrosexual.

        • rtsy

          Spoken like a xenophobic hick.

    • tiger

      Well give up that refund check then…………….

  • Rich

    I’m just curious why we can’t use any of the rocket designs that were developed over that last 50 years.

  • Thomas B.

    This is one of the bigger BS I have read recently.

    the RD-180 is used on the EELV only. EELV was created with price tag in mind hence the cheaper produced Russian engines – providing not less quality though.

    Beside of that the US is able to produce every type of engine domestically if needed.

  • Big-Dean

    “stupid is as stupid does” a very bright man once said

  • mpower6428

    The whole damn concept doesn’t pass the smell test….. something else is going on here as per usual.

  • Dfens

    I wonder what ever happened to this bill introduced in the Senate last November? I’m sure Lockheed and Boeing are doing everything possible to kill it.

    The U.S. Defense Department would be required to examine the feasibility of swapping the Russian-made engine that powers the first stage of one of its workhorse rockets for a U.S. alternative under recently introduced legislation in the Senate. — http://www.spacenews.com/article/launch-report/38

  • Stephen Russell

    Give lisc to Space X & speed up CST & SNC Dreamcatcher, shuttle alone for Space Ops.

  • Hunter76

    There’s an issue with intellectual property rights here.

    All the hubbub here is pitched to high levels by the takeover of Crimea.

  • SIXGUNWEST

    These people should have argued about BO killing the Shuttle Program and turning them into museum pieces to show muslims the US brash shuttle program is no more. Sort like leveling the playing on the road to bringing us down to the level of dirt poor sub-Sahara Africa.

    • PrahaPartizan

      The Shuttle Program was scheduled to end before Obama got elected as President. Spew your bigotry someplace else or choose a different topic to address when complaining about our ELECTED President. At least we know he was elected compared to the previous Pretender squatting in the Oval Office.

      • DBM

        Doing a Kool-aide mainline IV drip aren’t you. Damned democrats voting early and often and trying to change election laws. You could always tell when Clinton/gore were lying – their lips moved and sound came out.

        • PrahaPartizan

          Not doing Kool-aid at all compared to the Republitards who lapped up the spew coming out of Condi, Rummy, Dick and the Dummy for eight years. It’s funny how the election laws all need to be changed now after those states improved voting access years ago in order to avoid hard DoJ sanctions for their voters rights violations but now find that actually allowing decent access to voting means conservative politicians get booted by real citizens. Just ‘fess up that you’d rather just go back to the slaveocracy of your forebears rather than live in a real democracy. And don’t give that spew about “a republic” because it doesn’t mean anything in this context. I’d challenge you to define just how a republic differs from a democracy in their normal usage, just in case you can’t resist the urge to quote Franklin.

  • PrahaPartizan

    Given all of the hub-bub generated over producing another engine for the F-35, one would have imagined that someone would have thought that maybe proceeding with an alternative rocket engine for the main stage of the EELV produced here in the US deserved some traction. Pound-for-pound and cubic-foot-for-cubic-foot the shuttle’s engine was the most powerful in the world, so designing an equally effective engine using kerosene/LOx should be eminently doable.

    • tiger

      It is a narrow market. Fewer firms in Space today than 40 years ago.

      • PrahaPartizan

        Just how is it a narrower market than it was 40 years ago. Are there fewer militaries interested in launchers than 40 years ago – after the breakup of the Soviet Union and the release of the nations in the Warsaw Pact? Are there fewer private enterprises involved in actual launches than 40 years ago? Yeah, there are fewer vehicle builders as some might understand them, but that was a political decision to allow monopoly power to be established in the business. We have pretty much the same number of commercial airframe builders that we did 40 years ago and every last one can mount at least two different engine designs. How is this any different?

  • kage

    What would it cost and how long would it take to reestablish NASA back to where it was before our leaders decided to reduce it to where they are now.
    When the shuttle program was shut down and we had no way to retrieve our astronauts our selves I knew that was a major screw up.
    But we continue to pump money into other countries
    economies. Just amazes me….

  • Michael Morris

    What would the Russians or Chinese do if they were in our shoes? They would just copy the American engine.

    • tiger

      That is how they made the Mig -15. They ripped off Rolls Royce.

      • Hunter76

        Tiger,

        No. The Mig-15 was derived from German design, particularly the Ta-183.

      • LChoate2000

        Rolls-Royce provided the Nene jet engine which the Soviets copied (without paying a license fee) for the MiG-15.

  • Spacecowboy

    Launch more EELV Delta rockets. 100% US Made top to bottom. ULALaunch.com

  • Spacetoy

    Fly more Delta EELV rockets. 100% US made top to bottom

  • William_C1

    I wish Presidents would still promise space program stuff and actually do some of it as opposed to promising free stuff and then screwing everything up.

  • Patriot

    As long as the US pays 70% of its income out to those takers who want a check, the economy and its very security will remain at risk.

    • PolicyWonk

      Until the congress rescinds the “temporary” tax cuts of 2002, and rescinds the massive increase in corporate welfare programs they started (according to the CBO), this nation will remain financially/economically insolvent.

  • WulfTheSaxon

    “[…]even if we had the license to start up a line to produce that engine in the United States.”

    What is he talking about? They already have a license…

    For some more background: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2014/03/spacex-and… (and the associated forum threads)

  • tiger

    I guess the “Right Stuff” was wrong? Their Germans are better than our Germans…….

    • Dfens

      Our Germans got the bums rush out of NASA as soon as the Apollo program was over. Rockwell designed the shuttle and defense contractors have designed NASA’s rockets from then on. And look at how well that has gone for us.

  • Mat

    Before you get all high and mighty ,just look up wilkipedia os something on RD rocket engine family. these things are so superior to anthing else that it hurts ,comparing them to Nasa engine its like comparing a stock V8 to tuned and supercharged V8 . And in space every gram of weight or Booster power counts its weight in gold or platinum

  • Hunter76

    The proportion of hysterical whiners here is incredible.

    NASA remains the premier space explorer. NASA’s probes dominate Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Saturn, the ice giants, near extra-solar space, and the Moon (though big achievements there have been lacking since Apollo). ESA, the strongest competitor, remains far behind. Venus, where the Russians have had some success, is the only area where NASA lags.

    The ISS, which is Man in Space for Man in Space sake, has yet to find a real mission. Certainly industry is not clamoring to get on board.

    • Maxtrue

      I will say to America bashers that the recent landing on Mars was one of the most amazing technical feats humanity has ever accomplished. That said, the fact that COSMOS won’t really re-ignite the 60s and 70s enthusiasm in science because we don’t care as much is sad. However, much of that innovation was military-related. As we are learning now, things can get ugly again. In January, China tested a hypersonic re-entry craft.

  • Is our space program that broke that we need Russian rocket engines!!!!!

    • Dfens

      According to some statistics NASA published a few years back NASA’s funding level today is equal to the average funding they got during the Apollo program. The Apollo funding profile had some peak funding levels much higher than NASA’s current budget, but then again they also had years with a lot less funding too. Given that rockets are a mature technology now, we should be able to build them for a lot less now than we did in the 1960’s. If NASA was more interested in doing their jobs and less interested in funneling money to a select few contractors they could still be doing great things.

  • If memory serves……………………….The Falcon IV cost is about, 70 million to LEO. Or about what one seat costs bumming a ride off the Russians. The Falcon IV Heavy is only exceeded in it’s lift capacity (to any orbit) by the MIGHTY Saturn V. At roughly 150 million per launch vehicle..

  • Rockerman III

    My thoughts on Putin ” if someone shows you who they are, BELIEVE THEM !

  • Peter

    To most of the posters on here. You do realise that all us Europeans used to look up the USA as something to aspire to don’t you?

  • hibeam

    NASA’s new Mission is to find Muslim Mathematicians and hire them so Muslims can feel better about themselves. How is that new mission going? I have not heard a lot about it since the laughter died down.

  • bum291

    The rocket works and it’s much cheaper than starting to work on a new design. Russia just snatched Crimea, a snatch of some rocket desígn in return is nothing. I’d support such a move.

  • Jim Connors

    Stalin had no problem with stealing and copying our B-29. We should return the favor and copy their engine.

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