USAF Funding Development of Domestic Rocket Engine

The Air Force will have three competitive space launches in Fiscal 2017, and is funding the development and integration of a domestically sourced rocket engine, the service’s deputy undersecretary for space told reporters Thursday. The Fiscal 2017 budget proposal fully funds the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, Winston Beauchamp said in a Pentagon roundtable. It also includes $296 million for “further continuation work toward launch system solutions,” after the USAF was restricted in the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act for pursuing anything other than rocket propulsion system work, said Maj. Gen. Roger Teague, the Air Force’s director of space programs. “We’re looking for the complete launch system capability, not just an engine,” Teague said. Beauchamp also said the Air Force is still conducting a review of whether it is possible or appropriate to make any changes to the EELV launch capability contract or payments; Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) called for a freeze on payments to United Launch Alliance after the consortium failed to bid in the Air Force’s first competitive national security space launch. But Beauchamp disputed McCain’s allegation that the Air Force is paying ULA $800 million a year “just to stay in business.” Costs associated with the ELC fund the infrastructure for launches contracted for in a block buy, Beauchamp said. “We’re not paying them to do nothing.”