The United States was one of the two initial space-faring countries. Without assured access to space, the United States will cease to be a Great Power. It is almost impossible for those who have grown up in the era of Apollo, Moon landings, the Shuttle and missions to the International Space Station to imagine a time in which this country’s ability to launch payloads and people into space would be severely limited. Yet, that time is right in front of us. The reason why is because of our dependence on a Russian-made engine, called the RD-180, to boost one of our two available rockets, the Atlas V, into space. Guaranteed access to supplies of the RD-180 has fallen victim to Moscow’s aggression against its neighbors and Congress’s unwillingness to reward the Kremlin for its bad behavior. The U.S. space program needs to free itself from dependence on Russian engines. This means developing and producing domestically a new engine for the Atlas V. Fortunately, there are a number of companies that could do the job, assuming they get the opportunity to compete for the job. I have written a more detailed commentary on the subject for Aviation Week that can be found here.
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