Senators look to allow Russian rocket engines

Senators look to allow Russian rocket engines
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A bipartisan group of senators is hoping to give the Air Force more flexibility to use Russian-made rocket engines for its national security space launches.

Sen. Bill NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonHow will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? Biden to talk Russia, anti-corruption with Ukraine's president Blue Origin's Jeff Bezos wages lawfare on NASA and SpaceX MORE (D-Fla.) filed an amendment to an annual defense policy bill that would allow all launch providers to compete for contracts, regardless of country of origin.

The provision would end after 2022, which Nelson said would give the Air Force enough time to wean itself off the Russian engines.

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“Banning the use of these engines too soon would not only cost taxpayers billions of dollars, it would put our national security at risk and unnecessarily hamper our ability to launch satellites into space,” Nelson said in a statement.

The amendment is co-sponsored by Sens. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE (R-Colo.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetInterior reverses Trump, moves BLM headquarters back to DC Conservation group says it will only endorse Democrats who support .5T spending plan Lawmakers can't reconcile weakening the SALT cap with progressive goals MORE (D-Colo.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and Dick DurbinDick DurbinManchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants Democrats hope Biden can flip Manchin and Sinema US gymnasts offer scathing assessment of FBI MORE (D-Ill.)

The Air Force relies on United Launch Alliance (ULA) — a Lockheed and Boeing joint venture — for its sensitive national security space launches. United Launch Alliance uses a launch vehicle reliant on the Russian engines, known as RD-180s.

As written now, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would only allow the Air Force nine RD-180s.

Banning the engines has been a focus of Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCain20 years after 9/11, US foreign policy still struggles for balance What the chaos in Afghanistan can remind us about the importance of protecting democracy at home 'The View' plans series of conservative women as temporary McCain replacements MORE (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain argues that continuing to buy the engines enriches the coffers of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies.

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But the Air Force and ULA supporters have argued ending reliance on the engines before a viable American-made alternative is available would be costly and could endanger national security by cutting off assured access to space.

The Air Force has requested authority to buy 18 engines, which the House version of the NDAA would allow.

The proposed amendment to the Senate NDAA would go further by saying there’s no limitations on the engines until after 2022.

“The DoD must have access to launch vehicles that it can afford,” Gardner said in a statement. “My amendment promotes competition and acknowledges the difficult fiscal environment by requiring the DoD to purchase rockets from certified providers that offer the best possible value. It also protects our national security by ensuring continued access to space, which is critical to the detection of missiles, transmitting secure communication, and gathering intelligence.”