The United States Defense Department will make an important decision in the near future which will determine whether or not a major spacecraft launching service in the United States will be allowed to continue using rocket engines from Russia.
United Launch Alliance needs a waiver from the Defense Department in order to keep using Russian engines. United Launch Alliance represents a joint effort between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Boeing Co.
If the group does not receive a waiver, they will not be able keep using the engines. A new United States law that was introduced last year banned the use of engines from Russia. If ULA is unable to continue utilizing the engines, it says that it will have a difficult time competing with rocket companies Space Exploration Technologies and SpaceX.
ULA has been the main service for satellite launches by the Air Force since 2006.
The Defense Department says that they are still working on reaching a final decision.
Defense Undersecretary Frank Kendall said, “We’re still working our way through that. I don’t have a decision yet.”
The engine that is primarily utilized by ULA is the RD-180 from Russia. It is used to power its main rocket, the Atlas 5.
Last year, lawmakers in the United States banned the use of Russian engines for the purposes of military activity and spy satellite launches. The new law came after Russia took over the Crimea region in Ukraine. The law affects 24 of the 29 engines that were ordered from Russia by ULA.
Officials from the Air Force are expected to support a waiver in favor of ULA, but they have not made any formal requests at this time.
For now, the Defense Department is ensuring that another company for launching satellites is available in the event that it decides not to grant a waiver to ULA.
“If you’re only dependent on one source for launches, and something happens to that source, then you’re in deep trouble. At the end of the day we want to make sure we have two ways to get our payloads into space,” said Frank Kendall.