Pentagon to Review Use of Russian Engine for Atlas V Launches

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday that the Pentagon will reassess the use of Russian-made RD-180 engines to power the Atlas V rocket, which launches many of the nation’s vital military and national security satellites.

“This is going to engage us in a review of that,” Hagel told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee today. “No question about that.”


United Launch Alliance has an engine supply of more than two years in the U.S., Michael Gass, president and chief operating officer of the company, said at the same hearing.

“We bought all the blueprints and specifications, brought them into the country,” and demonstrated “that we can take the blueprints and specifications” and replicate the engines if needed, Gass said.

“We invested hundreds of millions of dollars to prove that we have the capability to demonstrate our ability to build that exact engine.”

The reassessment comes as tensions have escalated over the Russian takeover of the Crimean Peninsula, which is part of Ukraine. The U.S. has opposed the action.

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  • Good. This may accelerate the development of a U.S. heavy thrust hydrocarbon engine.

    Bob Clark

  • Tonya

    Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s the option they’re considering. It’ll simply be RD-180 made in the USA, which would at least give supply security.

  • DocMordrid

    Meanwhile, back at McGregor and Stennis, a 1 million lbf methane fueled monster is gestating, and at Hawthorne plans for two SHLV’s using it are crystallizing.

  • therealdmt

    I guess Elon scored a rhetorical point with his testimony the other day (not that it would have taken a genius to figure out that US national security probably shouldn’t have Russia in its critical path if it doesn’t absolutely have to – that was always a major head scratcher)

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    This would mean that ULA would have to initiate the tooling and testing of either their own RD-180 (see Tonya) or a new replacement. This would come at great expense to them and would likely not yield any result for the best part of 5 years. In 5 years time there is a very good probability that the launch industry will be dominated by reusable engines and launch systems. ULA must surely know this and would be resistant to investing in an engine to nowhere, though if the government is paying the bill, who knows.

    If “made in the USA” is your primary concern, rather than the expansion into the solar system of all humankind regardless of what language they speak, then you should find comfort in the US heavy thrust hydrocarbon engine that is already being developed – it’s called Raptor.

  • Tonya

    The reusability argument is possibly the weakest one in influencing the Pentagon at this time. The majority of their payloads in this decade have a value considerably greater than the launch costs, in many cases in the billions per satellite.

    Their concern is assured access to space and reliability, and the mistake of backing the shuttle in the 80’s and its promise of cheap reusability is still a major influence in their decision making. After Challenger (and a run of other vehicle failures at the same time) they were actually cut off from orbit for awhile. The money pushed into the horribly expensive Titan 4 was the response.

    Their planning still prioritises assured access with redundancy via multiple launch vehicles. I think that the strongest argument that SpaceX have today is that they could entirely replace the role of the Atlas V within a few years, so that national security assets can be launched on either Delta or Falcon, both largely American rockets. That unfortunately would have implications for the other commercial manned vehicles.

  • Remember NASA already wants a heavy thrust hydrocarbon engine to use to upgrade the SLS boosters. Aerojet is investigating building their own version and Rocketdyne is investigating resurrecting the Saturn V F-1 engine.

    Bob Clark

  • windbourne

    In light of the recent BS about the Helicopters for Afghanistan, and the previous naval misconducts, it makes sense to have this looked at.

    Our military was corrupted during the 00’s. We need to clean house.

  • windbourne

    I would still love to see us kill the SLS and instead, create a COTS-SHLV for 2 SHLVs. Competitition would help out NASA and the DOD.