Assuring National Security Space: Investing in American Industry to End Reliance on Russian Rocket Engines



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With a scheduled date of June 26, the upcoming hearing on the US space launch strategy is bound to get heated. The forthcoming hearing, dubbed “Assuring National Security Space: Investing in American Industry to End Reliance on Russian Rocket Engines,” will feature a panel of government speakers followed by one from private industry. The House Armed Services - Strategic Forces Committee, the agency that oversees the nation’s ballistic missile defense, strategic weapons, space, and Department of Energy national security programs, wants the public to understand that Congress meant it when it mandated the US Air Force to end its reliance on Russian-made launch systems by 2019.

In a press release heralding the hearing, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama stated: “It is not the time to fund new launch vehicles, or new infrastructure, or rely on unproven technologies. It is the time for the Pentagon to harness the power of the American industrial base, and move with purpose and clarity in order to swiftly develop an American rocket propulsion system that ends our reliance on Russia as soon as possible.”

Congress desires to wean the US Air Force off the Russian-made, liquid-oxygen/kerosene-fueled, dual-combustion RD-180 rocket engine. The RD-180 is the powerhouse behind the popular Atlas V expendable launch system, operated by the Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture United Launch Alliance.

The government panel features:

  • John Hyten, Commander of Air Force Space Command
  • Gen. Samuel Greaves, Commander of Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center, the unit responsible for procuring space hardware
  • Katrina McFarland, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition
  • Mike Griffin, the former NASA administrator who co-authored a study in 2014 that advocated swapping out the RD-180 as soon as possible

The private industry panel will include:

  • Tory Bruno, President and Chief Executive of ULA
  • Rob Meyerson, President of Blue Origin
  • Julie Van Kleek, Vice President of Advanced Systems and Launch Programs at Aerojet Rocketdyne, the developer of the LOX/kerosene-fueled AR1 that could replace the RD-180 on the Atlas V expendable launch system
  • Jeff Thornburg, Senior Director of Propulsion Engineering at SpaceX, ULA’s latest rival in the national security launch market
  • Frank Culberson, President of the Space Systems group at Orbital ATK
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