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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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Friday, Oct. 31


Put your grammar and logical thinking to the test in a fun and friendly environment during the British Book Centers Board Game Evening starting at 5 p.m. today. The event is free and all are welcome to attend.



Saturday, Nov. 1


The men and women who dedicate their lives to fitness get their chance to compete for the title of best body in Russia at todays Grand Prix Fitness House PRO, the nations premier bodybuilding competition. Not only will men and women be competing for thousands of dollars in prizes and a trip to represent their nation at Mr. Olympia but sporting goods and nutritional supplements will also be available for sale. Learn more about the culture of the Indian subcontinent during Diwali, the annual festival of lights that will be celebrated in St. Petersburg this weekend at the Culture Palace on Tambovskaya Ul. For 100 rubles ($2.40), festival-goers listen to Indian music, try on traditional Indian outfits and sample dishes highlighting the culinary diversity of the billion-plus people in the South Asian superpower.



Sunday, Nov. 2


Check out the latest video and interactive games at the Gaming Festival at the Mayakovsky Library ending today. Meet with the developers of the popular and learn more about their work, or learn how to play one of their creations with the opportunity to ask the creators themselves about the exact rules.



Monday, Nov. 3


Non-athletes can get feed their need for competition without breaking a sweat at the Rock-Paper-Scissors tournament this evening at the Cube Bar at Lomonosova 1. Referees will judge the validity of each matchup award points to winners while the citys elite fight for the chance to be called the best of the best. Those hoping to play must arrange a team beforehand and pay 200 rubles ($4.80) to enter.



Tuesday, Nov. 4


Attend the premiere of Canadian director Xavier Dolans latest film Mommy at the Avrora theater this evening. The fifth picture from the 25-year-old, it is the story of an unruly teenager but the most alluring (or unappealing) aspect is the way the film was shot: in a 1:1 format that is more reminiscent of Instagram videos than cinematic art. Tickets cost 400 rubles ($9.60) and snacks and drinks will be available.



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