White House Requests $1.2 Billion For New Rocket In Air Force Budget

By  //  February 17, 2016

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documents released Feb. 9

United Launch Alliance's Atlas 5 rocket, powered by the Russian RD-180 engine, above, prepares to launch. The use of the engine on national security mission has led to major spending proposals in the fiscal year 2017 budget. (ULA image)

United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket, powered by the Russian RD-180 engine, above, prepares to launch. The use of the engine on national security mission has led to major spending proposals in the fiscal year 2017 budget. (ULA image)

(Spacenews.com) – The U.S. Air Force plans to invest more than $1.2 billion over the next five years to develop a new launch system that would aim to end the Defense Department’s reliance on a Russian rocket engine, according to budget documents released Feb. 9.

The President’s budget request for the next fiscal year also includes about $2.1 billion in 2021 to develop follow-on systems to two of the Air Force’s crown jewels in space: the highly protected communication satellites known as the Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites and the missile-warning satellites in the Space Based Infrared System constellation.

But the spending on the new rocket shows how replacing the Russian engine has become a top priority for lawmakers as well as Defense Department and intelligence community leaders.

The Air Force currently depends on United Launch Alliance’s Atlas 5 rocket, which uses the Russian RD-180 engine to power its first stage, to launch the majority of national security satellites.

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In response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, lawmakers have limited future use of the engine and in its place say they would like a new American engine by fiscal year 2019, a timetable Air Force officials call aggressive.

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