Assuring Space Access Without Russian Interference

The Defense Department will reassess the use of Russian-made rocket motors for launch of US military satellites after rising tensions over Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine has raised questions about the long-term viability of that supply chain, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told members of the House Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on Thursday. During the same hearing Michael Gass, president and chief operating officer of United Launch Alliance, said the US has a two-year supply of the motors and has spent “hundreds of millions of dollars to prove that we have the capability to demonstrate our ability to build that same engine.” During a House Armed Services Committee hearing Friday, Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said the partnerships should be reviewed. Elon Musk, owner of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which has been trying to break into the launch business, told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s defense panel on March 5 that, “It would make sense . . . for the long-term security interest of the country to probably phase out the Atlas V, which depends on the Russian engine, and have ULA upgrade the Delta family.” That, combined with SpaceX’s Falcon rocket, would give “the Defense Department assured access to space,” added Musk.