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U.S. Must ‘Collude’ with Russia Eight More Years for Rocket Engines

Sept. 5, 2017 (EIRNS)—If the United States wants its military establishment to be able to continue to launch rockets into space, it will have to "collude" with Russia for eight more years, according to the views of "government and industry officials" reported in today’s Wall Street Journal.

The Journal’s sources said the Defense Department’s expected dependence on Russia’s RD-180 rocket engines for heavy lift rockets, is being stretched out to the mid-2020s, "several years longer than originally anticipated." The RD-180s, a batch of which were originally bought by the United States at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, are used by United Launch (the Lockheed-Martin/Boeing joint venture) to launch Saturn V rockets carrying most military communications and navigation satellites.

The Journal reports the further delay is in part being caused by the Obama administration priority of "promoting competition among launch providers"—bringing in Elon Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies, Inc. and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin LLC. This is resulting in less business for United Launch, slowing down its development of a new engine.

But there is evidently another cause for the long-time attempt to develop a replacement: superior Soviet/Russian rocket technology. The performance of the RD-180s were 10-15% more efficient than rocket engines produced in the United States, due to a unique technology which involved mixing oxygen into the fuel prior to preparation for launch. This produces more powerful thrust for the same amount of fuel, with a unique rocket engine design. American companies have not yet fully mastered it.

Britain’s Channel 4 TV documentary series "Equinox" aired an episode on the rocket engines in March 2001, titled "The Engines That Came In from the Cold."