House Armed Services Committee Wants AR-1 Engine in Atlas V

Artist's conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)
Artist’s conception of Vulcan rocket. (Credit; ULA)

The House Armed Services Committee appears determined to require United Launch Alliance (ULA) to re-engineer its Atlas V booster with a new Aerojet Rocketdyne engine in its first stage even though the launch provider doesn’t really want the motor.

The Atkas V’s first stage is powered by a Russian-made RD-180 engine. Instead of replacing the motor, ULA is developing a brand new booster named Vulcan that would be powered by Blue Origin methane-fueled BE-4 engine and a re-engineered Centaur upper stage called ACES.

Aerojet Rocketdyne’s kerosene-fueled AR-1 is being funded as a backup option in case ULA drops plans for the Vulcan booster.

The U.S. Air Force has provided funding for both the BE-4 and AR-1 engines. The service has also funded propulsion development by other companies such as SpaceX and Orbital ATK.

A draft House measure that will be marked up on Wednesday would prohibit the U.S. Air Force from funding anything other than a replacement engine for the Atlas V. The committee said in a statement:

“Assured access to space is a national security priority. The Committee shares the concern of many members that reliance on Russian-designed rocket engines is no longer acceptable. The Chairman’s Proposal, as recommended by Chairman Rogers of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, denies the Air Force’s request to pursue the development, at taxpayer expense, of new commercial launch systems. It instead focuses on the development of a new American engine to replace the Russian RD-180 by 2019 to protect assured access to space and to end reliance on Russian engines. The Mark also holds the Air Force accountable for its awards of rocket propulsion contracts that violated the FY15 and FY16 NDAAs.”

The AR-1 engine is the only capable of meeting this requirement.

  • Bulldog

    I’m all for US built engines in DoD launch vehicles but Congress dictating the engine seems a bit much. That decision should be made by engineers and based on the best available data and vehicle requirements.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The new AR-1 engine is produced for the Atlas V.
    ULA develops Vulcan with BE-4 engines.
    Vulcan replaces Atlas V.

    Will the AR-1 every fly?

  • Chad Overton

    Funny how supposed highly capitalist republicans don’t want market forces to choose the rocket motor. Only Putin like government mandates.

  • Change60

    ULA exists to serve the US airforce. It’s a monopoly blessed by the govt to ensure US government satellites can reliably get to orbit. It’s existence is to capitalism the same way Amtrak is. Not at all.
    I know you love your GOP bashing, even when facts trip you up.

  • pathfinder_01

    ULA is no longer an monopoly(Orbital and Space X exist) and is no longer the only the only one who can launch air force payloads. ULA needs the freedom to choose it’s engine or else it will get underbid by Space X .

  • Chad Overton

    Listen Facty McFactface, hand picking the rocket motor company has nothing to do with what you just stated. And bashing any hypocracy is what I love so eat it.

  • Michael Vaicaitis

    ULA exists because Boeing and Lockheed didn’t want to compete, but still both get a slice of the pie. ULA also launches for NASA and on the very odd occasion for commercial customers. You seem to have tripped up on the facts.

  • jb

    along the same track…If an engine is made from pork.. But will it ever make a sound..

  • Jeff2Space

    So the politicians in Congress think that swapping the RD-180 for the AR-1 is that easy? If the performance specs don’t match (and there are a plethora of numbers to match), that approach simply will not work.

    That and it’s pretty much a given that switching to the AR-1 will be more expensive per launch than the RD-180. Atlas V will become less competitive on cost than it already is. This mandate to the Air Force on how it should spend its money is wrong headed in so many ways it’s not even funny.

  • windbourne

    How is that any different than when CONgress mandated how SLS was to be made and by whom?

  • Rocketplumber

    NASA is a federal agency and thus under the aegis of Congress. ULA is a corporation. Do you want to set the precedent of having the government directly order a privately held corporation how it must spend its budget? Perhaps to make the trains run on time?

  • windbourne

    well, that is not the same thing.
    In this case, the house is saying that if you want this money, then you have to do it our way.
    There is NOTHING that says that they MUST TAKE THE MONEY.
    However, the house decides a number of things, including if they will be allowed to launch for the gov.

    The real issue is that the house/CONgress really does not have the background to make these choices. Yet, the GOP believes that they do.

  • Bulldog

    Hi Windbourne, I completely agree with you, no difference at all and SLS should never have made it beyond the conceptual stage. It’s sole reason for being is to funnel dollars into a couple congressional districts. Funny thing is everyone seems to acknowledge the fact and yet nothing is done.