Florida Shouldn’t Miss Opportunity
With New Rocket Engine
by Florida Space Development Council
May 1, 2014 – In the late 1990s, as the Air Force settled on Delta-4 and Atlas-5 designs by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, one controversial element was the inclusion of Russian-provided RD-180 engines to power the Atlas-5. The RD-180 is by all accounts a remarkable rocket engine, a propulsion system without peer in the U.S. Concerns about the supply of these engines from Russia were addressed by a plan for Pratt & Whitney (which had partnered with Russia’s Energomash and bought engineering designs for the engine) to domestically produce the RD-180.
Their plan was to manufacture the engines at P&W’s facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. Unfortunately, due to cost concerns (and with Air Force concurrence), this plan was shelved in favor of keeping a two-year supply of the Russian-made engines on hand. According to many in Congress who support sanctions against Russia, that plan is no longer good enough. The latest Air Force budget draft for FY-2015 includes $220 million to develop a domestic alternative to the RD-180.
After a series of mergers and acquisitions, Pratt & Whitney’s rocket engine business (including manufacturing facilities in West Palm Beach) now belongs to Aerojet Rocketdyne. The West Palm plant still produces upper stage engines for both the Atlas-5 and Delta-4, and capacity still exists there for RD-180 manufacturing. With momentum building in Washington for a “domestic alternative” to the Russian engines, the Florida Space Development Council believes Florida lawmakers and economic development officials should be working now to position West Palm Beach as the location for building these engines.