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.