California Rocket Maker Aims To End Pentagon Reliance On Russia

The proposed AR1 engine would replace the RD-180, the Russian engine currently used to launch Defense Department payloads into space.

U.S. aerospace companies plan to jointly develop an American-built spaceflight engine over the next four years in order to end the Pentagon's current reliance on engines built in Russia.

Aerojet Rocketdyne, a California-based rocket engine manufacturer, was picked by the U.S. Air Force to work with the United Launch Alliance as part of an $804 million public-private partnership last week.

The proposed AR1 engine would replace the RD-180, the Russian engine currently used by ULA — a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin — to launch Defense Department payloads into space.

The RD-180 came under intense scrutiny in Washington after Russia's intervention in Ukraine. Congress capped the number of engines that could be purchased by ULA at nine, only to see that lifted as part of a massive year-end spending bill.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., hammered that provision at the time and suggested that it would "send hundreds of millions of dollars to Vladimir Putin, his cronies and Russia’s military-industrial base."

In January, McCain and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., offered a proposal to repeal the limitless purchases of Russian-made rockets.

Proponents, including top Pentagon officials and key lawmakers, said that the RD-180 provides a stopgap while American manufacturers develop their own rocket.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Alabama — who helped strike the cap and whose state is home to ULA's production facility — previously said that the limit could stall launches for years and "undermines our national security."

The public-private partnership expects to complete development of the AR1 by the end of 2019, with the Air Force funding two-thirds of the project’s cost and the remainder split by Aerojet Rocketdyne and its partners.

"AR1 will return the United States to the forefront of kerosene rocket propulsion technology," said Aerojet Rocketdyne President and CEO Eileen Drake.

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