On Friday, the Pentagon denied a request from United Launch Alliance for a waiver from a U.S. law that limits the use of the Russian-made RD-180 engine in the first stage of the company’s Atlas V rocket for military and reconnaissance launches.
ULA, the monopoly provider of such launches since its creation in 2006, has said it needs the waiver to compete against privately held Space Exploration Technologies Corp, or SpaceX, in a new U.S. Air Force competition for satellite launches. Bids are due for the competition by Nov. 16.
The U.S. Defense Department said it would continue to monitor the situation, and was looking at a range of options, including possible sole-source contract awards, to keep both companies in business and ensure more than one supplier was available in the event of failures.
Prompted by Russia’s annexation of Crimea last year, U.S. lawmakers banned the use of Russian RD-180 rocket engines for military and spy satellite launches after 2019….
The ban affects nine of 29 engines that ULA ordered but had not paid for before Russia annexed Crimea. Bruno said five other engines approved for ULA’s use by Congress last year were needed for commercial or civil missions, and were unavailable for use in a bid for the new GPS launch.
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