Administration Opposes Measure Limiting RD-180 Procurement

RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)
RD-180 test firing. (Credit: NASA)

The Obama Administration is strongly opposing a Senate measure that would limit the number of RD-180 engines ULA could import from Russia. SpaceNews explains:

Under the Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016, ULA would have as few as five of the Russian-made RD-180 engines available for upcoming competitive rounds of the U.S. Air Force’s Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program. In a best-case scenario, the Denver-based company could have as many as nine of the engines, which are being phased out due to the downturn in relations with Russia.

ULA and Defense Department officials say the company needs 14 RD-180s to be able to go head-to-head with emerging rival SpaceX until its next-generation rocket, dubbed Vulcan, begins flying. The Vulcan, unveiled in April and featuring a U.S.-made engine, is expected to make its first flight in 2019 and be certified to launch U.S. national security missions by 2021.

The Office of Management and Budget fired back in a Statement of Administration Policy about the measure:

The Administration strongly objects to section 1603, which would place restrictions on the funds to eliminate the Nation’s use of non-allied space launch engines for national security space launches by 2019.  The Administration also strongly objects to moving Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) development funding into the more restrictive Rocket Propulsion System Development line item.  The Administration is committed to transitioning from non-allied engines; however, an engine-centric approach as laid out in this section would not preserve the Nation’s assured access to space.  While rocket engines are a major component of a launch vehicle, they are only one of many critical components.  These components must be designed and developed together to meet the ultimate cost and performance goals, not only for the launch vehicle but also for the support, operations, and production infrastructure as well.  Without a comprehensive strategy that ensures the availability of operational launch systems, the government risks investing hundreds of millions of dollars without any guarantee of ensuring assured access to space.