Generating Initial Thrust

The Air Force is committed to eliminating its reliance on the Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine, said Maj. Gen. Martin Whelan, director of space operations on the Air Staff. “We will fully embrace the need to develop a domestic alternative rocket propulsion system and continue our long-standing commitment to assured access to space,” Whelan told reporters during a briefing at the Pentagon on Feb. 5. The near-term objective is “to complete on-going work with tech-maturation and risk-reduction programs” of different engine types, said Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, director of space programs in the Air Force’s acquisition office, at the same briefing. Service officials have not determined yet whether the replacement propulsion system would be a liquid-fueled engine or some other type of solution, said Teague. That’s why they are using the generic term “rocket propulsion system” to refer to the notional replacement, he said. A solid-fueled engine is “absolutely” still in the mix, said Teague. He said he expects the Air Force to issue a request for proposals “later this year” to begin work on the new engine type. RD-180s power United Launch Alliance rockets today.?