A bipartisan group of congressional lawmakers sent Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter a letter on November 5 complaining that recent developments in the launch industry threaten military access to space. The legislators are particularly concerned Air Force officials are not monitoring trends that could leave the military with few alternatives to relying on Russian rocket engines in order to get sensitive national-security payloads into orbit. Their concerns focus on recent steps United Launch Alliance has taken to compete with lower cost, non-traditional launch providers while also responding to a congressional mandate requiring that use of Russian engines cease in 2019. ULA’s moves threaten to severely undermine Aerojet Rocketdyne, a longtime supplier of both liquid and solid-fuel motors, and the nation’s main repository of rocket-engine expertise. Both companies face big challenges as the market for launch services is transformed by new entrants, new technologies, and rising congressional concern about Russian intentions. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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