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House Appropriators Support RD-180 Replacement, Want More EELV Info - UPDATE

Marcia S. Smith
Posted: 09-Jun-2014
Updated: 10-Jun-2014 12:05 PM

UPDATE, June 10, 2014:   The committee approved the bill today with no changes to the space provisions.

ORIGINAL STORY, June 9, 2014:  The House Appropriations Committee supports adding $220 million to begin development of a U.S. liquid rocket engine to replace the Russian RD-180s currently used for the Atlas V rocket in its draft FY2015 defense bill.  The committee also directs the Air Force to provide more information about changes in the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program.  

Those recommendations are included in the committee's draft bill and report on the FY2015 defense budget request, which are posted on the committee's website. The defense subcommittee approved the draft on May 30.  Full committee markup is scheduled for tomorrow (Tuesday, June 10).

U.S. dependence on Russian engines for one of the two rockets used to launch most U.S. national security satellites is getting a lot of attention as U.S.-Russian relationships remain strained due to events in Ukraine.  Lockheed Martin's decision to use Russian engines for its Atlas V rocket dates back to the 1990s and was approved by DOD initially with the requirement that the company build a co-production facility in the United States where the engines could be provided independently of Russia in case geopolitical circumstances changed.  That requirement was later waived by the government, with the company buying extra engines to stockpile instead.   Today, a Lockheed Martin-Boeing joint venture, United Launch Alliance (ULA), builds both Atlas V and Boeing's Delta IV.  ULA says it has a two-year supply of RD-180s, but it would take longer than that to develop a U.S.-built replacement creating the conundrum now being faced by the U.S. government.

The House passed the FY2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in May, which includes $220 million to begin development of a U.S. engine to replace the RD-180.   That is an authorization bill, though, not an appropriation.  (Authorization bills set policy and recommend funding levels, but do not actually provide money.  Only appropriations bills provide money).  Winning support from House appropriators is a key step, though not the only one.

The Senate Appropriations Committee has not acted on its version of the bill so it is too early to tell if it will follow the lead of the Senate's DOD authorization committee.   The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) recommended $100 million for FY2015 rather than $220 million for this purpose when it approved its version of the NDAA in May.  Senator John McCain (R-AZ) included language in the committee-approved NDAA prohibiting the purchase of any more RD-180 engines after the current block buy contract is completed, although waivers are permitted in certain circumstances.  Even if the Senate Appropriations Committee does agree with SASC, there is quite a difference in the dollar amount between the House and Senate that would have to be negotiated.

Apart from the RD-180 issue, the House Appropriations Committee's draft bill and report highlight these other space-related recommendations:

  • Cuts the FY2015 EELV procurement request of $1.346 billion for three launches and infrastructure by $35 million.
  • Rescinds $118.7 million of FY2014 EELV funding.
  • Directs the Secretary of the Air Force to notify Congress of "each change to the EELV acquisition plan and schedule as compared to the plan and schedule" in the FY2015 budget submission "including the national security rationale for the change, the impact on the EELV block buy contract and launch manifest, the impact on the change in opportunities for competition for certified EELV launch providers, and the costs or savings associated with the change."
  • Cuts the Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS) and associated ground system request of $309.5 million by $10 million.
  • Provides $212.6 million for the GPS III operational ground control segment, the same as the request.
  • Adds $30 million to the $57 million requested for advance procurement of the GPS IIII space segment to allow for acquiring two satellites per year instead of one.
  • Provides the full request of $156.7 million for the Military GPS User Equipment program.
  • Provides the full request of $32.9 million for the GPS Space Modernization Initiative, but directs that $20 million be used to study "technological maturation, including the use of an alternative digital GPS payload, and risk reduction consistent with the GPS enterprise analysis of alternatives."
  • Directs the Secretary of Defense to consider upgrading existing communications terminals to accelerate the fielding of the full capability of the Mobile User Objective System (MUOS), a Navy satellite communications program.

Full committee markup is at 9:30 am ET tomorrow morning. 


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