The most bitterly contested issue this year in Senate floor debate of the National Defense Authorization Act was whether the Pentagon would be able to continue using Russian rocket engines to launch military satellites. SpaceX mounted a major lobbying effort to secure a ban on Russian engines, recognizing that if competitor United Launch Alliance couldn’t use the engines in its Atlas launch vehicle, it would have little ability to compete with SpaceX on price. In other words, the only military satellites ULA would be able to launch would be those SpaceX was incapable of orbiting. However, the SpaceX lobbying campaign faltered because ULA co-owners Boeing and Lockheed Martin mounted their own campaign to get out the word on what it would mean to ground the Atlas vehicle. In the end, legislators weren’t willing to assume the risks to space access that SpaceX’s desired ban would have entailed, and elected to keep using Russian engines until December 31, 2022 — when American-made alternatives to the Russian engines should be available. I have written a commentary for Forbes here.
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