The Air Force wants to transition off of the Russian-made RD 180 rocket engines, but needs to make sure there's a viable alternative in place first, Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves said Feb. 19.
(Photo: Courtesy/United Launch Alliance)
But Air Force leaders have said that stopping use of the RD-180 immediately would hamper American access to space, and that the U.S. needs to keep using the engines until replacements are made.
“Launch services using non-allied engines…will be replaced with new systems as they become certified,” Greaves told a breakfast hosted by the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies.
He noted that the Space X Falcon 9 rocket has already been certified for military launches, and will likely compete with ULA’s Atlas V and Delta IV rockets for launch contracts. Other groups such as Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne are also working on rockets of their own.
“After all the systems are developed, somewhere between 2022 and 2023, we’ll transition to a strategy of sustained competition where assured access to space is obtained by leveraging the domestic launches of at least two commercially viable launch services,” Greaves said.
The Pentagon is relying on “innovative public-private partnerships,” the general said. The earlier in the rocket-designing process that businesses and the military can work together, the cheaper it usually is to make sure the rockets meet Pentagon standards for defense launches.
“Launch systems solely designed for commercial systems may not meet national security launch requirements,” Greaves said.