King Worried About Reliance on Russian Rocket Motors

Jul 16, 2014

With the end of the space shuttle program, the United States no longer has its own capability to put very heavy payloads into space. The U.S. is relying on a Russian rocket motor - and that was the topic of a hearing by the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sen. Angus King asked Air Force Gen. William Shelton, commander of the Air Force Space Command, whether Russia has tried to use its rocket motors as leverage.

"Even after Ukraine, Crimea, the various unpleasantness, no threats?”  King asked.

“Certainly the potential is there, but right now what we are seeing is business as usual,” Shelton replied.

King said the United States should be concerned about relying on the Russians for a needed capacity.  Even though the United States has enough Russian rocket motors on hand to meet the expected need over the next two years, King said the U.S. should be looking at developing its own rocket motors.

"Just as we were talking about the Russian engine creates risk, I think having a sole supplier creates risk for the country, not necessarily national security risk, but certainly financial risk," King said. "I believe we need to move to competition as rapidly and as efficiently as possible, just from the common sense that competition is better than monopoly."

According to testimony at the hearing, that would cost at least a couple of billion dollars to develop, and the cost of each rocket would probably be higher than what the U.S. is currently paying the Russians.