The U.S. Air Force’s proposed FY 2017 budget includes $296.6 million for the development of new launch vehicle technology designed to wean the nation off dependence on Russian-built rocket engines.
The proposed spending is part of an effort that would see the Air Force spending $1.2 billion through FY 2021. Developing the new engine technology has become a priority as relations between the United States and Russia have deteriorated.
United Launch Alliance (ULA) depends on the Russian-built RD-180 engine on the first stage of its workhorse Atlas V booster, which is heavily used by the U.S. Air Force to launch defense satellites.
ULA is currently working with Blue Origin to develop a successor for the Atlas V called Vulcan. The new booster would use a Blue Origin BE-4 engine in its first stage. Several companies are competing to provide the second stage engine.
Budget documents also indicate the Air Force plans to procure five launch vehicles in FY 2017, including three competitive awards. ULA and SpaceX are certified to compete for defense launches.