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Sep 03 2015

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Russia threatens to halt RD-180 engines

ULA Atlas-V Propells MUOS-4 Satellite Into Space as Air Force and Congress Shudder Over Threats To Russian RD-180. Putin is threatening to halt RD-180 engine delivery, no doubt trying to extort more money from ULA since the Russian economy is in tatters.

The launch success comes as the Pentagon and Congress grow increasingly alarmed that Russian President Vladimir Putin could halt deliveries of RD-180 engines before the U.S. can field a replacement around 2021.

“The threats are real,” Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James, told the Senate Armed Services strategic subcommittee. The RD-180 situation is “disgraceful” said full committee Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona).

In spite of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, ULA is being allowed to procure an additional 18 RD-180s to carry Atlas-V operations to about 2021 by when SpaceX, and ULA”s new Vulcan rocket and perhaps other competitors can assure competition and heavy satellite access to space after the RD-180s run out.

If Vladimir Putin halts deliveries in the deteriorating diplomatic climate, the Pentagon and Congress are concerned about being forced to use the $400 million Delta-IV Heavy rocket for medium sized military payloads that would normally use the $150 million Atlas-V.

Well, we shouldn’t have gotten ourselves into this mess in the first place. Between this and NASA paying Russia another $490 million for rides to the ISS, we do a pretty good job of subsidizing the Russian space industry. I could go into a long history-based tirade about mistakes made over the past 20 years regarding our Soviet Russian friends, but as my pastor says, “If you bring the past into the present you have no future.”

Time to just rip the band-aid off, call Putin’s bluff, and if he does indeed cut off deliveries of the RD-180, then use that money that would have gone to Russia to subsidize innovation in the American rocket industry instead. We’ll be better off for it in the long run.

According to Washington D.C. based analyst Marcia Smith who writes “Space Policy Online,” Secretary James and Gen. Hyten plan to use NASA’s “public private partnership” (PPP) model and adopt a four-step path that will “result in a commercially competitive domestic launch capability to replace the RD-180.” Smith said those steps are:

Step 1: Technology risk reduction, for which money being obligated now will be used.
Step 2: Investment in rocket propulsion systems with multiple providers “to partner in their ongoing investment in domestic propulsion systems.”
Step 3: Use the PPP approach and enter into agreements with launch system providers to provide domestically-powered launch capability.
Step 4: Compete and award contracts “with certified launch providers for launch services during the period 2018-2022.”

I am in complete agreement with this approach.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/09/03/russia-threatens-to-halt-rd-180-engines/

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