Pentagon Hopes for Softer Sanctions on Rocket Engine Purchases From Russia

RD-180 rocket engine

The US Department of Defense has asked the Senate to soften sanctions that ban American companies from buying the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engines.

The Pentagon has urged the US Senate to soften sanctions against the use of RD-180 Russian rocket engines by American companies, the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti reported.The RD-180 is used in the first stage of US Atlas 5 rockets, and thus far there has been no US alternative to the Russian engines.

Earlier, Congress passed a legislation barring the use of the RD-180 on future military missions. In particular, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act directs the US Air Force to wean itself from the Russian-built propulsion system by 2019. The ban was drafted in connections with the situation in Ukraine.

A separate piece of legislation provided 220 million dollars to the Air Force earlier this year to begin development of a US alternative to the engine.

Speaking at a Senate Armed Services Subcommittee, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James proposed a spate of amendments to the law so that the US could buy the RD-180 engines that were ordered from Russia before the events related to Crimea’s reunification with Russia. The US has yet to pay for these engines.

According to James, the amendment “will help preserve the launches of competing Atlas rockets until US alternatives to the engines are developed.”


Senator John McCain, who is notoriously known for his anti-Russian rhetoric, was quick to wonder “whether it was in the interests of the United States is to subsidize the Russian defense industry, given Russia’s behavior.””No. It’s regrettable, but guaranteed access to space is much more important,” the Pentagon spokesman answered quoted by the Air Force Times.

In March 2015, the US announced a tender for space launches in connection with the ban on Russian rocket engines RD-180. The tender will be held for 28 launches, due to be conducted between 2020 and 2024.



Russian-Made Rocket Engines Can Be Used by US for Military Purposes

Energomash company employees stand near RD-180 engines prepared for shipment to the United States

US Air Force said that there are no restrictions on the military use of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engines.

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) — There are no restrictions on the military use of Russia’s RD-180 rocket engines used to launch US national security payloads into space, the US Air Force told Sputnik.

“The only RD-180 restrictions that the Air Force is currently operating under are in Section 1608 of the U.S. Fiscal Year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which conditions the use of rocket engines designed or manufactured in the Russian Federation, but does not limit their use to non-military purposes,” Air Force Spokesperson Chris Hoyler told Sputnik on Monday.


The 2015 NDAA prohibits the US Department of Defense from awarding or renewing contracts for launch vehicles that use Russian-made rockets. Currently, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture that brings together Boeing and Lockheed Martin to provide launch services to the US government, uses the RD-180 rocket in the first stage to power the Atlas V launch vehicle into space. Under the NDAA, the current contract for ULA to use the RD-180 that runs until 2019 will not be affected.In January Deputy Prime Minister of Russia and Deputy Head of the Military-Industrial Commission Dmitry Rogozin said the sale of Russian made RD-180s under a $1 billion contract with Orbital Sciences Corporation could not be used for military purposes and should be used for the International Space Station instead.

Last May, Russia announced about possible disruption of RD-180 supplies to the United States, but the Air Force told Sputnik last year that there have been no disruptions in the supply of the rocket.

Read more:

USA wants to give up Russian RD-180 engines

December 16, 2014 Viktor Kuzmin, specially for RIR
In early December 2014 the U.S. Congress approved a ban on purchasing Russian RD-180 engines. However, this decision is unlikely to be implemented in the near future. Orbital Sciences announced on Dec. 10 that it will now be using the Atlas V system fitted with the RD-180 to launch the Cygnus spacecraft.
USA wants to give up Russian RD-180 engines The Orbital Sciences Corporation Antares rocket, with the Cygnus spacecraft onboard suffers a catastrophic anomaly moments after launch from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport Pad 0A, Tuesday, Oct. 28, 2014, at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Source: AP

The U.S. plans to discontinue the use of Russian RD-180 engines. They are currently being used by the United Launch Alliance (ULA) company in its Atlas V carrier rockets. The decision was passed by the U.S. Congress in early December 2014.

The need to develop a new U.S. engine has been discussed over the previous decade. The drastic deterioration in U.S.-Russian relations over the conflict in Ukraine has further spurred American politicians’ desire to end dependence on Russian supplies.

Senator John McCain demanded that the U.S. Department of Defense immediately end its cooperation with companies that purchase Russian engines. However, the Committee on Armed Services concluded that the move could threaten U.S. national security.

That is why the ULA was permitted to continue using Russian engines until 2019, when an American replacement is scheduled to be ready. The U.S. will have to spend over $577 billion to develop a new engine. According to a recent piece in Fortune, there are no strong players on the American market at the moment able to create a competitive equivalent.

Russian experts point out that this decision might destroy a whole segment of the market since the RD-180 engine was specifically designed for U.S. rockets. “There is a close link between an engine and a carrier rocket,” says Ivan Moiseyev, head of the Space Policy Institute.

“In order to use the RD-180 in Russia or China, it would be necessary to design a launch system that would meet each country’s specific characteristics. So far, there are no projects like that.”

The world’s best engine?

The RD-180 is manufactured at the Energomash plant in the town of Khimki in Moscow Region. These engines have been used by the ULA consortium, set up by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to power the first stage of the Atlas V launch vehicle for a long time. The latter is used to launch both civilian and military satellites commissioned by the Pentagon.

According to Moiseyev, the RD-180 is one of the world’s best engines in its class. It was designed on the basis of the RD-170 engine that was used to power the Energia and Zenit carrier rockets. “Modern liquid-fuelled rocket engines have reached their theoretical limit in terms of efficiency,” says Moiseyev.

“The RD-180 uses the most advanced, so-called ‘closed’ engine configuration, very high chamber pressure. After 57 successful launches, the RD-180 has demonstrated 100-percent reliability.”

In addition, according to experts, the RD-180 remains the best engine in terms of value. Energomash told RIR that before 2010, RD-180 engines were sold to Americans at a loss. However, in 2010-2011 the plant started turning a profit, which allowed Energomash to spend some of the revenues to develop its production facilities.

Under a contract with the United States Air Force, the ULA must carry out 38 launches before 2020. Eight of them have been carried out this year. The company has 16 more RD-180 engines left. According to Alexander Zheleznyakov, an academic with the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named for Tsiolkovsky, this was mutually beneficial as it had a positive effect on space exploration globally.

“The Americans have been using our RD-180 engines for many years and there have never been any complaints,” says Zheleznyakov. “They are making an essential economic and financial contribution to the ISS program.”

Competition, monopolies and joint ventures

RD-180 engines are used only by American launch vehicles and the discontinuation of supplies will hit Energomash hard, Moiseyev points out. “Most likely, Energomash will have to cut its staff considerably and seek budget financing or subsidies to cope with the higher prices,” says Moiseyev. He adds that Russia is using the RD-170 and the single-chamber RD-191 for its Angara launch vehicle.

In 2013, there was a competition for the RD-180 in the U.S. between the ULA and Orbital Sciences, which also wanted to buy the engines for its Antares rocket. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission launched an antimonopoly probe against the ULA, a Boeing and Lockheed Martin joint venture.

The company was suspected of unlawfully preventing its competitors’ access to components supplied by RD Amross, a joint U.S.-Russian venture uniting Energomash and the U.S. company Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne. The former manufactures RD-180 engines, while the latter supplies them to the ULA for Atlas V launch systems.

Orbital Sciences had to use liquid-fuelled Aerojet AJ-26 engines, a modification of the old NK-22 engines made by the Samara-based Kuznetsov Design Bureau. They were developed during the Soviet period for the super-heavy N-1 rocket, but the project was closed in the 1970s along with the Soviet lunar program.

In October 2014 an Antares launch vehicle carrying a Cygnus cargo spacecraft that was slated to deliver over two tons of cargo to the ISS exploded at launch. After that Orbital Sciences decided to discontinue the use of any Russian engines. However, on Dec. 10, the company announced that it had signed an official partnership agreement with the ULA: Cygnus spacecraft will be launched with Atlas V carrier rockets fitted with RD-180 engines.

Russian rocket science eludes US space programme

November 22, 2014 Rakesh Krishnan Simha
The double whammy of Russian sanctions and the failure of the Antares rocket have exposed America’s complete dependence on Russian rocket technology.
Russian rocket science eludes US space programme
Moscow may impose a ban on all rocket engine exports to the US. Source:AP

The ambitious US space programme has come crashing down to earth. With Moscow banning the use of its rocket engines for military purposes, and the heavy lift Antares rocket – which uses Russian engines – exploding on its Virginia launch pad, the planned American surge into space looks increasingly unlikely.

The double whammy has revealed the true extent of American dependence on Russia in the space sector. The US relies on two powerful engines made in Russia – the RD-180 and NK-33. The RD-180 rocket engines are imported by United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture between leading weapons contractors Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, to power its Atlas rockets. ULA is the sole supplier of rocket launches for the Pentagon, which means the American military requires the Atlas rockets to place its spy satellites in space.

Here’s how the US lost its head. The company that makes the RD-180 is called NPO Energomash, and it is part of the Russian aerospace industry, which comes under Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin. In March, the US Treasury sanctioned Rogozin, the reason perhaps being that he is one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest advisors.

Moscow’s response was swift. Within days Rogozin declared Russia would no longer export rocket engines to the US to launch military satellites. Henceforth, Russian engines can be used only to launch civilian payloads.

So why does the US want Made in Russia rockets? For starters, the RD-180 is a 5.5 ton engine that is 11.5 ft tall and 10.25 ft diameter marvel of simple, reliable, powerful and affordable rocket motor design. According to Wired magazine: “Not only is the RD-180 more powerful than any of its American-made counterparts, but unlike US engines, it can be throttled up and down during flight, making for a much smoother and more efficient ride.”

It adds: “The Russians don’t worry about cosmetics or workmanship. They build the thing and test the shit out of it. This engine cost $10 million and produces almost 1 million pounds of thrust. You can’t do that with an American-made engine.”

Strategy Page reports: “Some American rocket experts (like Charles Vick) suspected during the Cold War that Russia had cheaper, more powerful and reliable rocket engines like this but these claims were dismissed by most American rocket experts. After the Cold War ended in 1991 the US got a close look at Russian rocket engines and realized Vick was right. By the end of the 1990s the US had a long-term contract to buy modified (to work in the American Atlas V rocket) RD-180s from Russia and a license to build RD-180s in the U.S. (using some Russian components that would be much more expensive to manufacture in America).”

The US currently has two years’ supply of RD-180 engines, and also has a license to produce the RD-180. In order to get production going you first have to develop the western suppliers for all the components now supplied by Russia. “This could take five years,” says Strategy Page. “Best case is that it would cost the US an additional $2.5 billion dollars to set up production and obtain more expensive launch services elsewhere in the meantime. Since the best case rarely happens it is more likely that it would take seven years to get RD-180 production going and cost at least an additional $5 billion to pay for launch alternatives. Many satellite launches would be delayed three years or more.”

The US originally had two rockets – the Atlas and the Delta. But because of the RD-180 the Atlas 5 is more attractive, in terms of performance and price, than the Delta 4.

The other Russian import, NK-33, is at the heart of the heavy lift Antares rocket, which is key to America’s future space exploration programme. The NK-33 was built in the 1960s to power the Russian manned mission to the moon but – in keeping with the opaque nature of Soviet decision making – was scrapped when the Americans landed on the moon first.

The program was shut down and all work on the project was ordered destroyed. However, a Russian bureaucrat who knew the worth of these engines hid them in a warehouse. When the Soviet Union dissolved some of the overly keen – and pro-West – Russian diplomats threw the crown jewels of the Russian space industry to visiting Americans – many of whom were undoubtedly spies. One of the engines was taken to America, where the scientists realised they had nothing in comparison.

A request for import was made, and in the mid-1990s Russia sold 36 engines to Aerojet General for a paltry $1.1 million each. Crucially, the company also acquired a license for the production of new engines, and the first Antares rocket using the NK-33 was successfully launched from Virginia on April 21, 2013.

The October 28 explosion of the Antares will have a direct bearing on the future of US space exploration. NASA has drawn up big plans in space, but without mastering the art of grafting Russian rocket engines on to the Antares, those plans will not achieve liftoff. The failure of the latest test indicates American scientists have been unable to master the complex technologies that have been transferred by the Russians.

As of now, Rogozin has only banned military use of rocket engines. Russia will continue shipping the RD-180s because it needs the money. After the once elite Soviet space industry collapsed, it was the profit from the RD-180 sales that kept several Russian firms afloat.

However, if sanctions start hitting the Russian economy, then Moscow will have nothing to lose by imposing a ban on all rocket engine exports. And that will hurt the Americans more as they don’t have rockets at this moment. Its massive Big Bird spy satellites will be grounded, leaving US intelligence services without their big eye in sky.

The US also relies on Russia for space ferry services. With its shuttle fleet – in reality a white elephant – now retired, the US relies totally on Russian rockets such as the Soyuz to supply the International Space Station. Without regular supplies launched from Russia, the ISS would have to abandoned and perhaps scuttled.

In their headlong rush the Americans failed to factor in that sanctions can be a double edged sword. The Russian reaction is entirely in keeping with the principles of reciprocity. As far as Moscow is concerned, making the rogues of the new Cold War pay for their impudence is fair trade.

Russia Continues Supplying Rocket Engines to USA


Photo: Russia Continues Supplying Rocket Engines to USA The supply of Russian-made rocket engines to the USA has not experienced any disruptions despite tense relations between the two countries. This was announced by Capt. Chris Hoyler on Friday. “United Launch Alliance received all the planned deliveries for the calendar year. All the engines in inventory can be used for government, civil and commercial launch missions,” Mr. Hoyler said. It should be noted that US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier ordered the Air Force to revise the principles of military-technical cooperation with Russia to reduce America’s dependence on Russian-made rocket engines. “The Air Force continues to plan for contingencies in the event there is a disruption in the supply of RD-180 engines. The US Department of Defence is evaluating options to mitigate impacts, if the RD-180 supply is interrupted,” Mr. Hoyler concluded.
WorldMilitary Power, 24.11.2014
The supply of Russian-made rocket engines to the USA has not experienced any disruptions despite tense relations between the two countries. This was announced by Capt. Chris Hoyler on Friday.“United Launch Alliance received all the planned deliveries for the calendar year. All the engines in inventory can be used for government, civil and commercial launch missions,” Mr. Hoyler said.

It should be noted that US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier ordered the Air Force to revise the principles of military-technical cooperation with Russia to reduce America’s dependence on Russian-made rocket engines.

“The Air Force continues to plan for contingencies in the event there is a disruption in the supply of RD-180 engines. The US Department of Defence is evaluating options to mitigate impacts, if the RD-180 supply is interrupted,” Mr. Hoyler concluded.

US receives 2 Russian rocket engines RD-180 under contract

RD-180 rochet engines are produced at Moscow region’s Khimki-based power engineering company Energomash

Material has 1 page
RD-180 engine production facility in Russia

RD-180 engine production facility in Russia

© ITAR-TASS/Yuri Mashkov


WASHINGTON, August 21. /ITAR-TASS/. US company United Launch Alliance (ULA) has received Wednesday first two Russian rocket engines RD-180 under a contract to buy 29 such engines, ULA spokesperson Jessica Rye told ITAR-TASS.

Engines were delivered to a ULA plant in Decatur, Alabama, the US company’s spokesperson said.

RD-180 produced at Moscow region’s Khimki-based power engineering company Energomash is mounted on the first stage of Lockheed-Martin-developed heavy rocket Atlas V. Two giants of US aerospace industry have set up joint venture ULA which has a many-year and multimillion contract with the US Department of Defense for launches of intelligence satellites.

In May, Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin and chief of Russian space agency Oleg Ostapenko warned that Moscow might halt supplies of rocket engines to the United States, if the country continued to use them for launches of military satellites. Meanwhile, Secretary of the US Air Force Deborah Lee James told ITAR-TASS in June that Washington had not taken final decisions over the issues whether the country should accelerate rocket engine’s purchase in Russia and should buy a license for their production on the American territory.

Russia may suspend the GPS stations on its territory , as well as the supply of rocket engines to the U.S.

Russia may suspend the GPS stations on its territory , as well as the supply of rocket engines to  the U.S.

TSAMTO , May 13. Russia starting from June 1 to suspend the work of 11 satellite earth stations of GPS navigation system on its territory. On this, as the ” RIA Novosti ” reports, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said .

Russia still continues to create its own global navigation system GLONASS. According to Rogozin , the U.S. refused to place on its territory the station of GLONASS for signal correction .

” On June 1, we’ll stop the work GPS stations», – Dmitry Rogozin said.

At the same time, according to Rogozin , the Russian side is ready to negotiate with the U.S. on equal cooperation . However, if during the summer of this year, the negotiations came to nothing , on September 1, GPS stations in Russia will be permanently discontinued .

Furthermore , as stated by Dmitry Rogozin , Russia , in response to the U.S. sanctions may suspend the delivery of rocket engines RD-180 and SC- 33 to the U.S., the agency said .

According to him, “we will proceed from realities . We can not continue to supply engines RD -180 , if they are not used by the United States for civilian purposes , and will not be able to continue routine maintenance work on engines that have been set in the United States . ”

As recalled , ” RIA Novosti ” , currently RD- 180 manufactured by NPO “Energomash” are supplied to U.S. for use on heavy rocket ” Atlas 5 “, by which the satellites, including military satellites, are brought to orbit.

In addition, Russia may terminate the supply in the United States the rocket engines NK-33 production of “Kuznetsov ” , which are used on launch vehicles “Antares” .