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U.S. Space Industry Takes First Step Toward Ending Dependence on Russia

Published: June 18, 2014 (Issue # 1816)



  • An Atlas V rocket taking off from Cape Canaveral on May 22 carrying a classified U.S. intelligence satellite.
    Photo: Ulalaunch.com

United Launch Alliance, or ULA, the leviathan of the U.S. Space launch industry, has answered a congressional call to end the U.S.'s dependence on Russian space technology for launches of military and intelligence satellites by signing development contracts with multiple domestic firms to develop a next-generation engine by 2019, the company said in a statement.

ULA's CEO Michael Gass beat the patriotic drum in the press release: "As the nation's steward of the launch industrial base and the only company certified to launch our nation's most critical missions, it is incumbent upon ULA to bring forward the best solutions to preserve that capability for the future," he said.

The company did not specify which U.S. engine makers it has signed contracts with, but said it will choose a concept and supplier to run with by the fourth quarter of 2014, and that the engine should enter service by 2019. Furthermore, ULA is "evaluating the technical feasibility of these new engine concepts for both private investment and the potential for government-industry investment," said the statement, which was released on Monday.

In that way, ULA appears to be answering the calls of U.S. members of congress in May to launch a domestic program to develop an all-American alternative to the Russian RD-180 engine by 2019, as the reliability of the supply chain has been thrown in to question by heightened tensions between Washington and Moscow after Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula in March.

For almost 15 years, ULA has purchased the RD-180 engine from Russia's NPO Energomash, based just outside of Moscow in Khimki, to power the first stage of the Atlas V rocket — the most-used rocket for launching valuable U.S. military, intelligence and scientific satellites and spacecraft.

Against the backdrop of the crisis in Ukraine, and the ongoing tit-for-tat sanctions dance between Russia and the U.S., the RD-180 purchases present an awkward dependence for ULA and its customers in the defense and intelligence communities.

"While the RD-180 has been a remarkable success, we believe now is the right time for U.S. investment in a domestic engine," the press release quoted Gass as saying.

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Saturday, Nov. 29


Cats, dogs, birds, rodents and reptiles are just some of the things that will walk and crawl at Lenexpo convention center this weekend as part of Zooshow, a two-day exhibition featuring not only man’s best friends but a four-legged fashion show, as well as a food fair that will help pet owners find out more about which kibbles are best for their hungry pets.



Sunday, Nov. 30


Remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the Russo-Finnish war in 1939 during today’s reenactment titled “Winter War: How it Was.” More than 200 people will take part in recreating the opening salvoes of the battle for the north in Kamenka, a small village situated between Vyborg and St. Petersburg, using authentic equipment and vintage vehicles from the era. The faux battle begins at 2 p.m.



Monday, Dec. 1


Serbia filmmaker Emir Kusturica is the featured guest this evening at the Lensovet Palace of Culture the Petrograd Side. Fans of the director will get the chance to watch his movie “Black Cat, White Cat,” as well as ask questions about his award-winning filmography. Tickets for the event, which starts at 7 p.m., start at 2,000 rubles ($42.50).



Tuesday, Dec. 2


Today is the final day of “Takoy Festival,” a three-week program of plays based on the works of Dostoevsky, Remarque and other famed European writers, whose work is transcribed for theatrical performances. Tonight’s festival finale is “Fathers and Sons,” a two-act drama staged by the Novosibirsk Academic Drama Theater based on Turgenev’s classic about familial relations.



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