Boeing, Lockheed move to replace Russian rocket

The company that launches military satellites said this week it has signed contracts with several U.S. firms to develop an alternative to the Russian-made rocket engines currently in use.

United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is run by Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin, made the move after coming under heavy pressure from Congress to replace the Russian-made RD-180 engines.

House lawmakers included in their defense policy bill a provision allotting money to develop an alternative engine, while phasing out the current contract by 2019.

The move also comes in the face of fierce competition by another company, Space Exploration Technologies, which has stepped up its lobbying efforts since Russian aggression in Ukraine.

The company, known as "SpaceX" is seeking Air Force certification to conduct the launches, and is suing the Air Force for what they say is an unfair contracting monopoly.

ULA said it would choose one of the companies to develop a new engine by the fourth quarter, which would enable initial launches by 2019, Reuters reported.

“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,” Michael Gass, president and chief executive of ULA, told Reuters.