The Air Force has hired the Aerospace Corporation to evaluate how long it will take to replace the Russian engine used by the Atlas 5 rocket.


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Government dithering: The Air Force has hired the Aerospace Corporation to evaluate how long it will take to replace the Russian engine used by the Atlas 5 rocket.

“I see numbers all over the map,” [Ray Johnson, vice president at Aerospace] said May 14 during the World Space Risk Forum here. “Some people say they could do it in five years. Others estimate it’s going to be longer than that, and that it could be eight.” Aerospace Corp. work evaluating what it would take to develop a hydrocarbon engine to replace the RD-180 — if U.S.-Russia relations sour to the point where the engine is no longer available or wanted — “is literally just a few weeks old,” Johnson said.

Time is critical on this issue. It seems to me a better thing to do would be to immediately issue of Request for Proposals, which would quickly tell the Air Force what the American aerospace industry has to offer. They could then proceed right to construction, rather than studying the issue endlessly beforehand.

Moreover, why isn’t Lockheed Martin doing something about this? It is their rocket that is dependent on the Russians. Why is it the Air Force’s responsibility to save them?

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3 comments

  • Tom Billings

    “Moreover, why isn’t Lockheed Martin doing something about this? It is their rocket that is dependent on the Russians. Why is it the Air Force’s responsibility to save them?”

    It isn’t LM’s ,in their view, because they know that it’s AFSCOM’s careers on the line when they can no longer launch reconsats. They expect their careers to be protected by their congressional patrons. Furthermore, they know why a US clone of RD-180 would take so long and cost so much. The Congress has used their influence over contracts to structure the aerospace industry over the last 60 years for maximum political benefit, not best cost/performance.

    Lastly, it is not too obscure that the general deterioration in US/Russian relations started as early as 1993, and both ISS and deals like the RD-180 sales were intended by 2 administrations to try to ameliorate this. Since the 1993 cancellation of negotiations over a joint US/Russian orbital ABM crystallized, IMHO, the beginnings of the “Great Russia” faction now dominant in Russian politics there has been little rational hope for ameliorating that trend, however. This is especially so since the Great Russia faction seized on the invasion of Iraq as a lever to split the 2 countries apart, at the same time as the oil price rises after that invasion increased Russia’s oil and gas revenues.

  • mpthompson

    Moreover, why isn’t Lockheed Martin doing something about this? It is their rocket that is dependent on the Russians. Why is it the Air Force’s responsibility to save them?

    Call me cynical, but I believe the answer can be found in Lockeed Martin squeezing more money from the government if it does indeed turn into a more urgent crisis.

  • Pzatchok

    Its the government for you.

    Never do something for free when you could over pay someone else to do it far less efficiently.

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