Congress, Pentagon

Armed Services Committee to take up authorization bill with RD-180 and other provisions

Later this morning the House Armed Services Committee will mark up its draft fiscal year 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which authorizes funding for the Defense Department and contains various policy provisions.

One of the biggest space-related provisions, located in the Strategic Forces section, is to authorize work on a new liquid-propellant rocket engine that would, in effect (although not explicitly stated), be a replacement for the Russian-manufactured RD-180 that has been at the center of so much controversy in recent months. The engine would permit, in the bill’s language, the “effective, efficient, and expedient transition from the use of non-allied space launch engines to a domestic alternative for the evolved expendable launch vehicle program.” The engine, to be completed by 2019, would be developed under a “full and open competition” and be available for purchase by all US space launch companies.

The subcommittee authorized $220 million for the program in its draft, although in the chairman’s mark released Monday that amount appears to be decreased by $23 million, a reduction “for liquid engine combustion technologies and advanced liquid engine technologies,” according to the tables in that portion of the bill.

The original Strategic Forces draft features a section on the EELV program that included a “sense of Congress” provision endorsing both the current block buy contract and efforts to support competition in the program. The chsirman’s mark, though, deleted that provision, while retaining the rest of the section, which requires notification of Congress of any change in the program.

Elsewhere, the bill would require the US Air Force to launch the last of the remaining DMSP weather satellites, DMSP-20, currently in storage. The bill would reduce authorized funding for a follow-on military weather satellite program from $39.9 million to $5 million, while authorizing an additional $135 million for the EELV program to cover the procurement of a launch of DMSP-20.

The bill also provides new life for the Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office, which the administration sought no funding for in its fiscal year 2015 budget proposal. The NDAA would authorize $30 million for the office to cover its operations as well as the launch of the ORS-5 satellite it is developing.

12 comments to Armed Services Committee to take up authorization bill with RD-180 and other provisions

  • josh

    Could spacex bid on this engine development contract with the raptor? It would be ironic.

    • Jim Nobles

      “Could spacex bid on this engine development contract with the raptor?”

      I don’t know. Raptor is methane, right? That might disqualify it in some people’s eyes. I’m also not sure what Raptors thrust is going to end up being. Also I’m not sure about the dissemination of the IP, would SpaceX be okay with that?

      I hope someone more knowledgeable than me can answer this.

      • Ben Russell-Gough

        As I understand it, SpaceX are currently planning Raptor to have 1,000,000lbs thrust at sea level, a sea level Isp of 380s and a vacuum Isp of 400s. The big selling point is its compromise of impulse with long-duration space idle without complex tank cooling/boil-off mitigation.

  • The engine, to be completed by 2019

    5 years. Safely beyond the time horizon for Obama, which is all he ever wants in a decision. Why does everything have to take 5 years? Why not 2? This isn’t something complex, like the Keystone XL pipeline. We already have the engines we want to copy and the legal right to do so. Get to it!

    • Jim Nobles

      Dude, don’t blame the 5 year thing on Obama, he’s got nothing to do with it. That’s industry’s number. And I bet they end up with more than a billion dollars of taxpayer’s money too. If they actually do this thing. Which I doubt.

    • josh

      the real question is why do you bring obama into this? we’re talking about a draft bill in congress the white house had nothing to do with. it’s like you’re obsessed with the guy.

  • josh

    this might end up a big waste of money. the engine is obviously intended as a replacement for the rd 180, and to be used on atlas v. what if the rest of atlas is so obsolete by 2019 that ula just wants to get rid of it because even the government won’t pay their insane prices anymore?

    • Hiram

      “what if the rest of atlas is so obsolete by 2019 that ula just wants to get rid of it”

      I made this point before, and I think it’s a good one. The Falcon is technologically current. Atlas is not. Developing a new engine to prop up an old launcher may make little business sense. I mean, my Chevy Nova is reliable, and gets me from one side of town to the other. When the engine on it goes out, am I smart to replace it?

      • Jim Nobles

        I’m thinking that an American made engine for the Atlas can only drive the price up.

        How can that possibly be competitive? I think the only choice ULA has is to keep using the RD-180 until they just can’t get them anymore. Then let the sun set.

  • Malmesbury

    “Why does everything have to take 5 years? Why not 2?”

    If you want a picked “bid” from an aerospace prime, under FAR, it will take 3 years to get the design for coffee mug and tshirt logos for the project to get sorted out.

  • Andrew Swallow

    Lets compare like with like.

    How much is the proposed total grant for a new engine probably for the Atlas V?

    Using the COTS project how much did NASA pay SpaceX towards developing the Merlin engine?
    Using COTS how much did NASA pay SpaceX towards the Falcon 9?
    Using COTS how much did NASA pay OSC towards the Antares?
    Using CCDev how much did NASA pay SpaceX towards man-rating the Falcon 9? (Dragon is a separate but related cost)
    Using CCDev how much did NASA pay Boeing towards man-rating the Atlas V? (CST-100 and DreamChaser are separate but related costs.)

    How much would man-rating the Delta IV cost, allowing use of Atlas V parts?

  • On March 27th Gass assured congress that ULA could build the RD-180. Do it, and on ULAs’ dime.
    Not one taxpayer cent to design a US engine for Atlas V Mr. Gass, it’s your rocket, your poor choices, your problem. You, or LM/Boeing pay to build a new engine, not the taxpayer.

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