Elon Musk today said that given some of Russia’s recent military maneuverings in Ukraine, it’s about time the U.S. government paid his company, SpaceX, for the rights to launch satellites and other cargo into space. One of the primary choices, at least currently, is the United Launch Alliance (ULA), which is an evenly-held joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
Why is Musk saying it's time to start focusing on SpaceX? Primarily, it's because ULA uses an Atlas V rocket, which is powered in part by a Russian-built RD-180 engine. Those engines are built by EPO Energomash, which used to be part of a design bureau within the Soviet government and is still largely owned by the government.
Speaking before the Senate Committee on Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, Musk said reliance on ULA equates to reliance on the Russian government, which may not always be willing to offer those RD-180 engines. He said, “In light of Russia’s de facto annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea region and the formal severing of military ties, the Atlas V cannot possibly be described as providing assured access to space for our nation when supply of the main engine depends on President Putin’s permission.”
The Russian government has recently come under fire for its military movements into the Crimean region of Ukraine. The U.S. government has threatened sanctions, and automakers around the world are wary about the situation, which could result in greater trade impacts between the two nations. Scheduled bilateral trade talks between Secretary of State John Kerry and the Russian government have been canceled, and a longer dispute could mean that ULA is without the necessary parts to get cargo up into space.
In ULA’s defense, its president and CEO, Michael Gass, testified in the same hearing and pointed out that ULA has engines stockpiled, and still owns the blueprints for the engine — if absolutely necessary, the joint venture could build the engine itself.
In contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which has already successfully launched a few times since 2010, is made with American parts, which means there's no worry that Russian President Vladimir Putin might cut off the suppy to a key component.
To Bloomberg, he added: “We’re being forced to pay over $70 million per seat to the Russians just to go to the Space Station, and they have us over a barrel. Being at Putin’s mercy is not a good place to be, so we want to restore the American ability to transport astronauts to the Space Station — maybe beyond, some day — and do so as soon as possible. And it’s going to, I think, be a better product for a lot less money, and it’s just kind of embarrassing that the United States has to thumb rides from the Russians.”
Source: Business Insider