Reducing reliance on Russia for propulsion while investing in industry

HOWARD’S TOWER BLOG. Long have organizations in the U.S. relied on rocket engines from Russia to launch spacecraft, including military and commercial satellites, into space. Specifically, Russian-built RD-180 engines have been used to propel satellites and spacecraft from the U.S. aboard the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket.

Jan 6th, 2016
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HOWARD’S TOWER BLOG. Long have organizations in the U.S. relied on rocket engines from Russia to launch spacecraft, including military and commercial satellites, into space. Specifically, Russian-built RD-180 engines have been used to propel satellites and spacecraft from the U.S. aboard the United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket.

The United States’ dependence on Russian propulsion technology has been a thorn in the side of myriad organizations, agencies, and aerospace leaders for years. The Russian reliance continued, much to the chagrin of vocal engineers and officials, because the Department of Defense and NASA seemingly lacked any advanced and proven alternatives (although some aerospace innovators would beg to differ). It wasn’t until recently, however, that members of Congress took note.

When Russia and the Ukraine started duking it out over Crimea in 2014, the aerospace community made some collective noise and the American people took notice – so, too, did Congress. (Fun fact: A Coca-Cola map even briefly showed Crimea, in the Ukraine, as part of Russia; seriously, search for it on Google.)

Of course, U.S. Congressmen claimed not to know that agencies and organizations within the Federal Government were paying Russia for aerospace propulsion systems and components.


Hey, members of Congress, you should be reading Intelligent Aerospace. Click through to read an insightful interview with former NASA Administrator: “Former NASA Administrator Griffin urges government to reduce dependence on Russia, proactively pursue space, and clearly define goals and policy

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised; Congress pleaded ignorance when taxpayers balked at the government, by way of NASA, paying Russia half a billion dollars to send astronauts to space (to the International Space Station via Soyuz rockets).

I’m realizing that this is starting to read like a diatribe bashing Congress and Russia, but that’s not the case. (That would be a much longer piece with expletives. Nah, just kidding around.) I’ll get back on point: the U.S. government is now investing in maturing homegrown propulsion technologies. (Huzzah!)

Congress imposed a deadline: Stop using Russian-built engines to launch DOD and NASA satellites by 2019. To that end, U.S. Air Force officials have announced the first seven companies to receive contract awards under the organization’s Booster Propulsion Technology Maturation Broad Agency Announcement (BAA). The program, devised to help advance U.S.-built rocket engine technologies and designs, reportedly boasts funding to the tune of $170 million in total. (It’s a start.)

And, without further ado, the winners are:

Johns Hopkins University Whiting School of Engineering in Baltimore, Md.: $545,860

Tanner Research Inc. in Monrovia, Calif.: $902,507

Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Md.: $935,696

Moog Inc. in East Aurora, N.Y.: $728,337

ATK Launch Systems in Magna, Utah: $3,125,810

Aerojet Rocketdyne in Canoga Park, Calif.: $6,003,668

Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. in Redondo Beach, Calif.: $5,465,705

Congratulations to everyone involved. Your industry peers are waiting with bated breath to see your latest and greatest aerospace innovations, especially in the area of propulsion.

p.s.

I want to extend my appreciation to aerospace industry leaders who have helped to ignite and further fuel the public’s (and my own) passion over aerospace innovation around the world. (As an example, Aero Montreal helped coordinate interviews, visits, and tours with Pratt & Whitney Canada (PWC), a longtime innovator in propulsion. Be sure to read all about it here: http://www.intelligent-aerospace.com/_search?q=aero+montreal&x=0&y=0)


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