Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar to the right. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.
We’re here to help you! Congressman Duncan Hunter (R-California) in March introduced a new bill that requires U.S. companies building solid rocket motors to purchase the oxidizer from within the U.S.
That oxidizer, ammonium perchlorate, is only available from one Utah company, a company that also happens to belong to a member of the Washington establishment.
Some in industry are arguing the legislation is an earmark to help a now struggling business — American Pacific, owned by the Huntsmans of Utah — with political ties to the Trump administration. Jon Huntsman, former two-time Republican presidential candidate, is tapped to be the next ambassador to Russia.
And if the legislation passes as part of the fiscal year National Defense Authorization Act, the business would be propped up, but potentially at the expense of a larger solid rocket motor industry and the U.S. government, sources interviewed by Defense News argued.
Essentially, this bill would give Jon Huntsman’s company a monopoly and would likely increase the cost of making solid rocket motors.
The article is very detailed. While on the surface it sure looks like a case of crony capitalism, it is a bit more complicated. Demand for ammonium perchlorate has dropped since the shuttle was retired, causing Huntsman’s company to struggle. While it could be argued that this bill is an effort to save this company as well as encourage new American companies to form, there are many factors described in the article that suggest this isn’t going to happen, including this tidbit:
The other factor is the price for [ammonium perchlorate] will improve naturally when the government has more demand in roughly six years when NASA’s Space Launch System kicks off in full and the nuclear missile fleet is refreshed, so a solution that is more temporary could be in order, several sources suggest.
Since it is doubtful SLS will ever “kick off in full,” it is unlikely that demand for solid rocket motor oxidizer will ever rise as predicted. A better solution would be for Congress to mind its own business and let the market function normally. There are other companies in Europe providing this oxidizer, and the competition would force Huntsman’s company (as well as other new American companies) to innovate to stay competitive.