Russian lawmaker threatens to block sale of Russian rocket engines to ULA

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In response to new U.S. sanctions, a Russian lawmaker has now threatened to block the sale of the Russian RD-180 rocket engine that ULA uses in its Atlas 5 rocket.

Russian lawmaker Sergei Ryabukhin, who heads the budget committee in the upper house of the Russian parliament, responded to the new sanctions by vowing: “The United States needs to finally understand that it’s useless to fight with Russia, including with the help of sanctions.”

According to the Russian news agency RIA, Ryabukhin found a place to hit Washington where it’s soft: the rocket engine. Losing access to the RD-180 would make American access to space—something Donald Trump desires enough to create a separate military service branch devoted to it—much more complicated. The engine helps get everything from satellites to astronauts into orbit.

More details here.

If Russia does this they will be shooting themselves in the foot. ULA is their only customer for the RD-180 engine. Without those sales, they would cut themselves off from one of the few remaining international space contracts they still have, further bankrupting their dying space industry. Furthermore, the U.S. has many other options even if the Atlas 5 can no longer fly. ULA might suffer until it can get a replacement engine, but in the meantime the Falcon Heavy is now available to replace it, at less cost.



  • geoffc

    Interestingly they do not mention the RD-191 that Antares is using. Whatever LM is calling it now that they bought Orbital sciences.

    As you note, Falcon, Antares (barring a Rd-191 embargo), Delta 4 are all viable options at differing costs.

  • wodun

    It could be good for ULA since it would force them to take development of replacements for their existing products more seriously. Might even get them to spend more of their own money.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “in the meantime the Falcon Heavy is now available to replace it, at less cost.

    Sergei Ryabukhin may be unconsciously on both the U.S.’s and SpaceX’s sides. The whole reason that the US declared that we would not import the RD-180 engines after a certain date was to punish the Russians. Now the Russians seem eager to (masochistically) accelerate that punishment, and SpaceX is poised to do the same job for the U.S. as we now depend upon the RD-180 to do. Clearly, Ryabukhin didn’t think this through.

    The Russians have already banned any current RD-180 imports from being used on military launches, so this new ban would not hurt our defense missions any more than they have already been harmed. It can only harm commercial and civil uses (e.g. NASA and NOAA launches) of the Atlas V.

    As Robert noted, David Axe, the article’s author, focused only on the use of the Atlas V rocket, and failed to note that other rockets, including ULA’s Delta IV, can also perform many of the same launch tasks.

    Ryabukhin probably should have prefixed his proposed punishment of the U.S. with the phrase, “this will hurt me more than it will hurt you.”

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