For the last decade, Russian-made engines have been propelling US national security satellites into space.
While this has proven to be a good approach in the past, the time has come for a new breed of rocket engine that’s American-made.
On Feb. 29, the US Air Force — who runs the national security launch missions — announced that it will invest up to $738 million to put an end to America’s reliance on the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines.
RD-180 engines currently power the Atlas V rocket, which is owned and run by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) aerospace company.
And over the last 10 years, the Atlas V has helped ferry expensive and sensitive national security payloads into space for the Air Force.
But in recent years, as political tensions grew between the US and Russia, ULA’s use of the RD-180 engines has come under fire.
After the Crimean crisis in 2014, Congress called to permanently terminate the Air Force’s reliance on Russian-made rocket engines by building a program that would see functional, American-made rocket engines by the end of 2019.
Now is the right time
As part of its announcement on Feb. 29, the Air Force said it will award ULA up to $202 million, which will go toward the construction of ULA’s new Vulcan rocket — scheduled to launch for the first time in 2019.
Vulcan is expected to run on rocket engines designed and constructed by the American aerospace company Blue Origin, which is owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
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