Four Years Of Sanctions: NASA Still Struggles To Cease Reliance On Russian Rocket Engines

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Four Years Of Sanctions: NASA Still Struggles To Cease Reliance On Russian Rocket Engines

AP Photo / Maxim Marmur

NASA is working hard to stop relying on Russian rocket engines, as said by Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.

This is a result of the new sanctions on Russia announced by the Trump administration on August 8th. The sanctions were imposed due to the alleged use of chemical weapons against Russian ex-intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in the UK city of Salisbury in March.

The 2018 US National Defense Authorization Act limits purchases of Russian rocket engines after December 31, 2022. Sergei Ryabukhin, the Russian upper house’s budget committee head, cited by Sputnik News, said that Russia’s may retaliate against the new US sanctions by affecting deliveries of the RD-180 engines to the United States.

“The United States of America is working really hard to not be dependent on the RD-180 engines. NASA is unique from the rest of the federal government in a sense that when relations get rough between countries, when they are not so good, NASA is able to maintain that relationship,” Bridenstine said in an interview with the C-SPAN broadcaster on August 12th.

He also recalled that US astronauts on the International Space Station flew there on a Russian Soyuz carrier rocket. He further emphasized that NASA didn’t want to depend on Russia, however it also wanted to maintain good relations with Moscow.

RT also reported that Roscosmos said that its Director General Dmitry Rogozin could hold talks with his counterpart in Baikonur, Kazakhstan in October. Bridestine also confirmed that he was interested in meeting Rogozin. “I intend to [meet Rogozin] in the near future,” he said. Further commenting “And we are working on how do we maintain this relationship given those [sanctions] constraints and I’m very confident that we’ll be able to work it out.”

Bridestine also expressed his confidence that Boeing, SpaceX and other US companies would eventually produce viable and safe alternatives to the RD-180 engines.

To quicken the process of relying on Russian engines, NASA and Congress have increased funding for commercial efforts which should allow Boeing and SpaceX to begin launching astronauts into space from US soil.

Russia supplies the RD-180 engines to the United States under the 1997 contract. The US space program relies on the Russian-built engines to power the first stage of the Atlas V rocket, used for sending heavy payloads into space.

RT reported that geopolitical tensions and sanctions introduced by the US against Russia has prompted calls by US politicians to consider replacement of the Russian-supplied technology. However, until there is a viable alternative, the US would like to preserve cooperation with Russia.

On July 31st, Igor Arbuzov, the head of Russia’s major rocket engine manufacturer JSC NPO Energomash announced the signing of a contract with the United Launch Alliance on the delivery of six RD-180 rocket engines for Atlas V rockets in 2020.

A report by Space.com as early as July 2014 said that US is too dependent on Russian rocket engines, citing experts. NASA associate administrator Robert Lightfoot back then said there is no need for alarm, because “Our teams are working together with the Russians very well to continue space station operations.”

In early 2014, Rogizin commented on Twitter after the concerns of US dependence on Russian rocket engines arose that if the US wanted to send its astronauts to space alone, it should use a trampoline.

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  • frankly

    How can they be so evil and yet be such an integral part of our space program? We trust them to take our astronauts into space and blame them for stuff without proof. What a lousy friend we are!

  • Gregory Casey

    Pence’s “Space-Force” appears to be a little like ha’pence ……. half a penny will never be enough to buy sweetys for one pence: without Russia’s Rocket Engines, America’s Space Forces will never leave the ground unless half-Pence believes in copying the Russian Engines and breaching their Patents:) )))))

    • just me
      • Gary Sellars

        Merlin is a shitty low efficiency gas generator engine. Designed to be low thrust so they can achieve vertical landing with a single unit in deep throttle, so need to be used in clusters.

        RS-68 is a hydrolox engine, and an all-LH2 stack like Delta 4H is mega-expensive (as LH2 has a very low density and the tankage needs to be huge). LH2 is a great fuel for upper stage, but blows chunks for the 1st stage.

        The US doesn’t build a decent high-pressure high-efficiency closed cycle kerolox engine using hydrocarbon fuel.

        It seems that you need to learn how the read and understand and not just post links to wiki articles that you clearly don’t fully comprehend.

    • Ivan Freely

      US Space Force is the Pentagon’s answer to China’s PLA Strategic Support Force.

      • Gregory Casey

        And?? The half-baked proposals made by Pence will ensure nothing more than guaranteeing that both Russia and China will rule Space with America a far-distant turd

        • Ivan Freely

          Given Pentagon’s track record, I agree.

  • anonim

    They invested a lot in Musk, but he can’t be trusted to send even a fly to the ISS. Musk is just like the US Army: very impressive image/brand, huge profits and crass incompetence.

    • just me

      :-D You are i…t. Learn something about Dragon.

  • VeeNarian (Yerevan)

    I really don’t know why RF is interfering in NASA. This sort of Russian collusion must stop at once. Enough is enough. NASA must be liberated from this cruel and unusual punishment of using Russian rocket engines.

    • frankly

      Agreed, how can they be blamed when they perform so flawlessly. Not nearly enough drama!

  • John Brown

    Tripple the price and make the USSA pay in gold, for everything.

    • Ivan Freely

      But the USSA have no gold.

      • John Brown

        Then when the can’t pay the USSA Zio dollar will collapse.

    • william beeby

      lol you mean start a war . That is already happening but slowly. The US has not paid for anything other than its paper dollars .

  • Ivan Freely

    It’s only a matter of time that the US regains it’s space independence.

    • william beeby

      I thought the US went to the moon in 1969 ? Surely they must be leading the ” space Race ” , oh wait a minute they destroyed the technology and lost all the plans , films , data etc. Space Balls more like it.

      • Ivan Freely

        You may be right as I always wondered why NASA never tried to reverse engineered the Saturn 5 rocket.

        • batavian

          Why reverse engineer something you already own. The Saturn F1 motor was a fine piece of equipment for its purpose but way too expensive and powerful for low orbit launches of commercial and military satellites. What the USA should have done, and didn’t, was to build an expandable family of rockets, like the Angara series: https://www.space.com/40658-angara-rocket.html

  • frankly

    In probably the single most sensitive part of our national security, space, we are completely at the mercy of the Russians. We literally cannot get to the ISS without them. Something does not add up. If they are dastardly bastards, why this dynamic? John McCain hates this situation and yet here it is. Perhaps the Aliens demanded this as part of the space treaty?

    • william beeby

      The Aliens ? Star wars? There is no ISS it is all BS to filch American tax dollars through NASA.

      • frankly

        Whereas I doubt the moon landings, ISS seems probable as it is within Van Allen. Not much of an Alien fan but really at a loss as to how such an anti-Russian country winds up so crucially reliant on Russia. The fact that the situation is continuously less vice versa proves the inevitable unravelling of western hegemony.

        If my frankly outrageous aside is true, the Aliens have a wicked sense of humor. The question remains. If you can trust Russia to deliver our most precious top secret satellite into orbit, what can’t you trust them with?

  • william beeby

    There is no ISS so this is just BS . Do you really believe the US went to the moon in 1969 and now canot build their own rockets ? Give me a break lol….