Congress Gives Reluctant USAF Funds for RD-180 Replacement

Atlas V launch of WorldView-3 satellite (Credit: ULA)
Atlas V launch of WorldView-3 satellite (Credit: ULA)

Space News reports that Congress has given the U.S. Air Force $220 million to spend on a replacement for the Atlas V Russian-made RD-180 first-stage engine over the objections of Air Force officials.

The money was included in the massive omnibus spending bill despite an objection from the U.S. Air Force, which in November said there is no clear path for acquiring a new engine and that it would require extensive changes to any of the launch vehicles at its disposal.

“[W]e don’t have a program to spend that $220 million,” Gen. John Hyten, commander of Air Force Space Command, said at a Dec. 5 breakfast here.

Report language accompanying the “Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act for 2015, which funds most federal activities for the remainder of the current fiscal year, or through September, gives the Air Force six months to come up with a strategy for risk reduction and technology maturation for the new engine. Both chambers of Congress are expected to vote on the bill Dec. 11….

“We have a lot of work to do to figure out how to work the future of our launch enterprise,” Hyten said. “And it’s going to be a challenge to figure out how to get there by 2019.”

Congress wants a replacement engine by Fiscal Year 2019.

ULA, which launches the Atlas V, has announced a plan to work with Blue Origin develop a new engine and launch system. Aerojet Rocketdyne is also interested in developing a RD-180 replacement.