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Political Fight Brewing Over Russian Rocket Engines

Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine. Photo: NASA
Russian-made RD-180 rocket engine. Photo: NASA

A political fight is brewing over the use of a Russian-made rocket engine. Some U.S. Senators want to ban the Russian-made RD-180 engine.

The reason? Buying Russian made engines indirectly benefits Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The U.S. Airforce uses private-launch providers ULA and SpaceX to send satellites to orbit. ULA uses those Russian made RD-180 rockets, while SpaceX uses an in-house designed Merlin engine.

Senator John McCain called for an outright ban, asking the Air Force to find a domestic rocket engine to take their place. But Senator Bill Nelson says not so fast.

U.S. companies like Blue Origin and Aerojet Rocketdyne are working on replacements, but Nelson said it will take time to develop an alternative.

Nelson filed legislation asking for five years to find a replacement, preventing ULA from looking for more expensive alternatives.

The next Atlas V rocket with an RD-180 engine launches later this month.

Brendan Byrne is Central Florida Public Media's Assistant News Director, managing the day-to-day operations of the newsroom, editing daily news stories, and managing the organization's internship program. Byrne also hosts Central Florida Public Media's weekly radio show and podcast "Are We There Yet?" which explores human space exploration, and the weekly news roundup podcast "The Wrap."