Russia Threatens to Cut Off Rocket Engine Supply to US

Last week, the United States imposed sanctions on Russia due to their derogatory activities in the Ukraine, prompting the country to declare that they would be pulling out of the International Space Station, leaving other countries to foot the $3 billion dollar a year bill without them.

However, as the week progressed their bluster progressed along with it, and now Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin has devised a different plan. In effect, he wants to make the United States leave the International Space Station instead.

Recently the Deputy Prime Minister threatened to cut off the supply of RD-180 rocket engines that the US space-launch companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing have been using. But United Launch Alliance, the joint venture between these two companies, reports that they have about a two year supply of engines piled up, so Rogozin’s threat would not have any immediate implications

But because they know the spare parts won’t last forever and it doesn’t look like Russia wants to play nice, ULA is now looking for other ways to continue to launch. Now, Stratolaunch Systems Corporation has developed a new way to get satellites into orbit. The “Eagles Launch System” plans to have an aircraft carry a space launch package high into the atmosphere and then use a multi-stage launch vehicle to get it out into orbit.

Numerous companies in New York have agreed to work together to make the launch vehicle into a reality. GenCorp has said it will sell Stratolaunch at least six PL10C-1 liquid-fueled rocket engines for use in Eagles, which would be enough engines to supply up to six Stratolaunch flights.

In spite of this innovative plan, ULA still has cause for concern where the Russian threat is concerned because they don’t believe that ATK — the company which builds their rockets — is unlikely to design a replacement for the RD-180 before their supply is exhausted. Experts say it could take anywhere from five to eight years to come up with a good, working engine of that size.

Because the United States uses Russian rockets to get their astronauts up to the International Space Station, and their contract guarantees those rides until sometime in 2017, there is great concern that Rogozin’s desire to prevent more Americans on the ISS might actually hold some weight until the Eagles are ready to fly.

Why is it so complicated to make a massive, liquid-fueled engine? Perhaps the video series beginning below may shed some light.