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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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ALL ABOUT TOWN

Saturday, Aug. 30


Break out the tweed and channel your inner Englishman during the English Hunt Picnic this afternoon organized by the Bagmut stables from Krasny Bor in the Leningrad Oblast. Equestrian stunts, English archery and classic hunting fashion will all be available to visitors hoping to live like the characters in Downton Abbey if only for a day. Tickets for the event cost 7,900 rubles ($219.40).


Bookworms will have their chance to swap out well-read classics for something new for their bookshelves at Knigovorot, a free book exchange that will be held in the Yusupov Garden on Sadovaya Ulitsa today. Come for the chance to get a new book or take the opportunity to discuss the literary merits of your favorite authors with fellow fans.



Sunday, Aug. 31


The Neva Delta International Blues Festival wraps up this afternoon on Vasilevsky Island with a concert featuring not only some of Russias best blues bands but international stars as well. Admission is free for all three days of the festival, which begins on Aug. 29, and the shows starting at 5 p.m. each day.



Monday, Sept. 1


Today marks the beginning of Lermontov-Fest, a fall festival celebrating the life of one of Russias most remarkable poets who, in a fate eerily similar to Pushkins, was killed in a duel at the age of 26. Organized by the Lermontov Library System, the next several months will see art exhibitions, concerts and public lectures focusing on the Lermontovs short yet prolific career. Check the Lermontov Library Systems website for more details.



Tuesday, Sept. 2


Join expats and practice your Russian during the Russian Clubs weekly meetings every Tuesday night at 7:30 p.m. The club is free to participate in although you need to be a registered member of Couchsurfing.



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