The United States Air Force is pursuing a high risk strategy to provide assured access to space. It is betting heavily on the ability of the two primary launch providers, the United Launch Alliance (ULA) and SpaceX, to develop new reliable launch vehicles, the Vulcan and the Falcon 9/Falcon 9 Heavy, respectively. ULA is considering the even riskier step of using a yet-to-be developed engine that relies on methane as its fuel source. In the meantime, ULA must extend its dependence on the Russian RD-180 engine for its work horse Atlas V booster. If anything goes wrong, and as the explosion of the Falcon 9 last week demonstrates, it does, the Air Force could lose assured access to space. So why isn’t the Air Force adequately hedging its bets by investing in the AR-1 engine from Aerojet, a company that has been in this business for more than 70 years? I have written more about the Air Force’s risky strategy here.
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